Even though NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting the asteroid Vesta since mid-2011, the rocky world still yields surprises--from its complex geological features to its approximately 4.5-billion-year history in the solar system.
Now, as research into the asteroid belt continues, space enthusiasts can catch a glimpse of Vesta in a new NASA video of Dawn’s “virtual flight” over the asteroid. Data from the Dawn spacecraft was used to create a realistic view of the giant asteroid, capturing every crater and canyon.
"Dawn's residence at Vesta of nearly a year has made the asteroid's planet-like qualities obvious and shown us our connection to that bright orb in our night sky," Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a written statement.
The connection is striking--literally. Some meteorites that have hit Earth came from Vesta, data from Dawn's exploration confirmed. The mineral pyroxene found in the meteorites matches those of rocks on Vesta's surface.
NASA researchers also found that this match is seen in about 6 percent of all meteorites on Earth, making Vesta one of the largest single sources for space rocks discovered on our planet. Findings from the researchers have been published in the May 11, 2012 edition of the journal Science.