Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Space Travel News  

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

A Look Into Vesta's Interior

On its southern side the asteroid Vesta shows a huge crater. This picture shows the asteroid in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (top, left), as a reconstruction based on theoretical calculations (top, right), and as a topological map (bottom). Image: Ben Zellner (Georgia Southern University) / Peter Thomas (Cornell University) / NASA
by Staff Writers
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany (SPX) Jan 07, 2011
Researchers from the University of North Dakota and from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have discovered a new kind of asteroid using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

The mineralogical composition of 1999 TA10 suggests that unlike many other asteroids it did not originate from the outer rocky crust of its parent asteroid Vesta, but from deeper layers. Until now, no asteroid with this composition was known. With the help of this new discovery it is now possible to determine the thickness of Vesta's crust and study its internal structure.

In this summer Vesta will be the first destination of NASA's mission DAWN. In addition, the body with a diameter of approximately 525 kilometers is believed to be the only remaining protoplanet from the early phase of our solar system.

The asteroid Vesta is unique: Unlike all other minor planets, that orbit the Sun within the main belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, Vesta has a differentiated inner structure: A crust of cooled lava covers a rocky mantle and a core made of iron and nickel - quite similar to the terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

Scientists therefore believe this onion-like built asteroid to be a protoplanet, a relict from an early phase of planet formation more than four and half billion years ago. All other protoplanets either accumulated to form planets or broke apart due to violent collisions.

Vesta seems to have witnessed a huge impact, as can be seen from a large crater on its southern hemisphere. The so-called Vestoids - a group of asteroids with a composition similar to that of Vesta - were most probably created due to this impact.

Since some meteorites that were found on Earth consist of similar rock as does Vesta's mantle, scientists believe that this collision also hurled material from deep within the asteroid into space. But till now there was no source in the form of near-Earth Vestoids for these meteorites with Vesta's mantle composition.

Near-Earth asteroid 1999 AT10 fills this gap. Using the NASA IRTF, the scientists were now able to analyze the infrared-radiation that 1999 AT10 reflected into space and compared its characteristic spectral fingerprints with those of Vesta. Apart from calcium-rich wollastonite, the measurements mainly point to iron-rich ferrosillite.

"These materials can be found in Vesta's mantle and crust," explains Dr. Andreas Nathues from MPS.

"However, the ratio is decisive." In the case of 1999 AT10 the concentration of iron is clearly lower than in any known Vestoids. "This all points to 1999 TA10 having originated from the interior of Vesta," says Nathues.

The newly discovered body now allows important inferences about its parent asteroid. Models of Vesta's surface based on observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope render a depth of the South Pole crater of ~25 kilometers at the most. The new discovery now suggests that this would be the maximum possible thickness of the outer crust.

In order to reconstruct the processes that led to the formation of planets more than 4.5 billion years ago, scientists need to determine the thickness of Vesta's layers as precisely as possible. Only this makes it possible to calculate from which material mixture the protoplanet was made - and thus which materials were present when the solar system formed and in what ratio.

The scientists now hope for more information about Vesta's structure from NASA's mission Dawn. In August 2011, the probe that has been traveling through space since 2007, will rendezvous with Vesta and orbit the asteroid for a year.

On board Dawn there are two cameras that were designed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in cooperation with the German Space Agency (DLR) and the Institut fur Datentechnik und Kommunikationsnetze of the Technical University of Braunschweig.

Share This Article With Planet Earth DiggDigg RedditReddit
YahooMyWebYahooMyWeb GoogleGoogle FacebookFacebook

Related Links
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Dawn Has A Consistent 2010
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jan 06, 2011
Dawn finishes 2010 much as it began the year, thrusting with its ion propulsion system in steady pursuit of a distant world. During the next year, the probe will arrive there and begin its scrutiny. In the meantime, it continues thrusting patiently, but now with a difference. Dawn is outfitted with three ion thrusters, although it is designed to use only one at a time. (The locations and w ... read more

ISRO To Launch Two Communication Satellites This Year

Arianespace Will Have A Record Year Of Launch Activity In 2011

2011: The Arianespace Family Takes Shape

ISRO To Launch Singapore's First Satellite In Orbit In February

NASA tries to awaken mars rover

NASA Checking On Rover Spirit During Martian Spring

Rover Will Spend Seventh Birthday At Stadium-Size Crater

China to explore Mars with Russia this year

Moon Has Earth-Like Core

Lunar water may have come from comets - scientists

The Hunt For The Lunar Core

Rocket City Space Pioneers Announce Partnership With Solidworks

Mission To Pluto And Beyond Marks 10 Years Since Project Inception

Kuiper Belt Of Many Colors

Reaching The Mid-Mission Milestone On The Way To Pluto

New Horizons Student Dust Counter Instrument Breaks Distance Record

The Final Frontier

Citizen Scientists Join Search For Earth-Like Planets

Qatar-Led International Team Finds Its First Alien World

Planetary Family Portrait Reveals Another Exoplanet

Canada says it could build launch rockets

ISRO Scanning Data For GSLV Flop

J-2X Turbomachinery Complete

New Technology: Hybrid Ion Rocket Engine

China Builds Theme Park In Spaceport

Tiangong Space Station Plans Progessing

China-Made Satellite Keeps Remote Areas In Venezuela Connected

Optis Software To Optimize Chinese Satellite Design

A Look Into Vesta's Interior

Dawn Has A Consistent 2010

Asteroid Itokawa Sample Return

Astrobiology Top 10: Close Encounter With Comet Hartley 2

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2010 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement