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Dawn Probe Finds Asteroid Vesta Has Preserved Pitted Terrain [VIDEO]

Sep 21, 2012 09:05 AM EDT

Asteroid Vesta has a pitted terrain and hydrated minerals on its surface, according to two papers published in the journal Science based on information collected by Dawn probe.

Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 in order to study the two celestial bodies - Vesta and Ceres - and understand the solar system's evolution. Asteroid Vesta is located in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

After completing a 15-month study Dawn left Vesta, which is the solar system's brightest asteroid, on Sept. 5 in order to study Ceres. Ceres is the largest asteroid which is also known as the dwarf planet.

Ever since it reached the Vesta's orbit, Dawn had sent pictures of mineral content and other geological features of the asteroid's terrain. Based on various information obtained researchers have reported their findings in two papers.

One paper led by Thomas Prettyman, the lead scientist for Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND), gives detailed account of the findings by GRaND. The report sheds light on the elemental composition of the Vesta's surface.

It pointed out that the surface of Vesta does not have actual water ice but shows signs of hydrogen released from hydrated minerals, likely in the form of hydroxyl. The hydrated minerals are said to have been distributed by meteorites and dust that collided with Vesta, reported NASA.

"The source of the hydrogen within Vesta's surface appears to be hydrated minerals delivered by carbon-rich space rocks that collided with Vesta at speeds slow enough to preserve their volatile content," Prettyman said in a news release.

Based on GRaND's data, the measurement of the elemental composition of Vesta's surface showed that the ratios of iron to oxygen and iron to silicon are the same as that of the ratios of these elements on other meteorites - Howardite, Eucrite and Diogenite - found on Earth.

Moreover, other volatile-rich materials found on Vesta are also found on these meteorites, the author reports in the paper.

The second paper, led by Brett Denevi, a Dawn participating scientist based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., revealed that the Vesta has pitted terrain due to the release of volatiles.

This finding also suggests the presence of hydrogen on the surface explaining that some space rocks which collided with Vesta at high speed converted hydrogen bound to the minerals into water, turning them into water vapor due to the heat generated from the collision. The report pointed out those similar features could be seen on Mars.

Check out the video that shows hydrogen hot spots on Vesta.

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