Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Snowman in Outer Space

Asteroid Vesta's images show cosmic snowman

The Hubble Space Telescope observed the asteroid Vesta back in 1994.

At the time is was 251 million kilometers from Earth. This asteroid, Vesta,
is the most geologically diverse asteroid. Hubble telescopes have revealed
evidence that the asteroid once had lava flowing on it.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around Vesta in July and has since
been studying the asteroid. The spacecraft began orbiting Vesta on July 15
and will continue to do so for a year. After, Dawn will then do some asteroid
hopping where it will encounter Ceres.

Vesta is the brightest asteroid in our solar system and measures around 330
miles across (approximately the length of Arizona).

Like most asteroids, Vesta lives between the belt of Mars and Jupiter.

Vesta is similar to the Earth's moon, with lava beds  and debris.
There is a flattened area on one end of Vesta, which was created by a
giant collision billions of years ago.

According to NASA:
"Vesta and the recently categorized dwarf planet Ceres have been selected
because, while both speak to conditions and processes early in the formation
of the solar system, they developed into two different kinds of bodies.
Vesta is a dry, differentiated object with a surface that shows signs of resurfacing. 
It resembles the rocky bodies of the inner solar system, including Earth."

Ceres, by contrast, has a primitive surface containing water-bearing minerals,
and may possess a weak atmosphere. It appears to have many similarities to the
large icy moons of the outer solar system.

"Ceres and Vesta are the two most massive residents of the asteroid belt.
Vesta is a rocky body, while Ceres is believed to contain large quantities of ice."

Facts about Vesta:
--Discovered: March 29, 1807 by Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers of Germany
(fourth asteroid discovered)
--Dimensions: About 578 by 560 by 458 kilometers (359 by 348 by 285 miles)
--Shape: Nearly spheroid, with a massive chunk out of the south pole
--Rotation: Once every 5 hours, 20 minutes
--At the asteroid's south pole is a giant crater - 460 kilometers (285 miles)
across and 13 kilometers (8 miles) deep.

As you can see - a "snowman" seems to be taking shape on Vesta -
a perfect
cooling image in this summer heat.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image of the giant asteroid Vesta with its
framing camera on July 24, 2011.

Source: NASA

In this image, obtained by the framing camera on NASA's Dawn spacecraft,
a set of three craters, informally nicknamed "Snowman" by the camera's team members,
is located in the northern hemisphere of Vesta. 

The image was taken on July 24, 2011, from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers).

Source: Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltec / UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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