When viewed with the human eye, protoplanet Vesta, which orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is quite unspectacular colour-wise: a grayish body pitted by a variety of large and small craters. New analyses however, now show Vesta, a relic from an early phase of planet formation, in a different light. Researchers at Max Planck can now see structures such as melts from impacts, craters buried by quakes and foreign material brought by space rocks, visible with a resolution of 200 feet (60 metres) per pixel.
“The key to these images is the seven colour filters of the camera system on board the spacecraft,” said Andreas Nathues, the framing camera team lead at Max Planck. Since different minerals reflect light of different wavelengths to different degrees, the filters help reveal compositional differences that remain hidden without them. In addition, scientists calibrated the data so that the finest variations in brightness can be seen.
Crater Antonia, 200°O/58°S: this colourized composite image from NASA’s Dawn mission shows the crater Antonia, which lies in the enormous Rheasilvia basin in the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta. The area lies around 58 degrees south latitude. Antonia has a diameter of 11 miles (17 kilometres).© NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
In the new colourized images, different colours indicate different materials on the surface of Vesta. They reveal impressive formations and a wide range of geological diversity, said Nathues. But above all, the colour-coded images are impressive because of their beauty.
“No artist could paint something like that. Only nature can do this,” said Martin Hoffman, a member of the framing camera team also at Max Planck. Pictures of the crater Aelia, the crater Antonia and an area near the crater Sextilia show some of Vesta’s most impressive sites.
Crater Sextilia, 135°O/30°S: this colourful image from NASA’s Dawn mission shows material northwest of the crater Sextilia on the giant asteroid Vesta. Sextilia, located around 30 degrees south latitude, is at the bottom right of this image.© NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The Dawn Mission
Dawn visited Ceres from July 2011 to September 2012. The spacecraft is currently on its way to its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with significant contributions by DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR and NASA.