Monday, October 3, 2011

Vesta: Small World, Big Mountain

"Giant Asteroid Vesta Has Mountain Taller Than Anything on Earth"
Space.com (October 3, 2011)

"A NASA spacecraft orbiting the asteroid Vesta is revealing new details about the huge space rock's surface, including a massive mountain that rises taller than Mt. Everest on Earth.

"NASA's Dawn probe has been circling Vesta since mid-July, when it arrived in the asteroid belt that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. So far, Dawn has beamed back surprising views of Vesta that revealed an enormous mountain in the asteroid's southern hemisphere and show that its crater surface is incredibly diverse place.

" 'We are learning many amazing things about Vesta, which we call the smallest terrestrial planet,' Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, said in a statement. 'Like Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury, Vesta has ancient basaltic lava flows on the surface and a large iron core … The south polar mountain is larger than the big island of Hawaii, the largest mountain on Earth, as measured from the ocean floor. It is almost as high as the highest mountain in the solar system, the shield volcano Olympus Mons on Mars.'..."

The Space.com article has several NASA photos sent back by the Dawn probe: The Lemming thinks they're fascinating, but someone else might wonder what's the big deal with a grayish pockmarked lump of a mini-planet.

What's most intriguing for the Lemming is the possibility that Vesta's southern mountain isn't essentially the biggest lump on a lumpy pile of stuff. If Vest has - or had - some sort of geological process that pushed that mountain up, we'll have more data to drop into planetary geology models. Or whatever that topic's called. "Planetology" sounds awkward: and that's another topic.

Like Venus, Earth, and Mars, Vesta apparently has two major areas. The asteroid's northern hemisphere has more craters than the southern, and seems to be older. Volcanic activity, long ago? Evidence of a really big impact event on Vesta?

The Dawn probe's next stop is Ceres: ETA 2015.

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2 comments:

Brigid said...

It feels like there's something missing here: "we'll have more data drop into planetary geology models."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Syntactic integrity is what was missing. It should have read ""we'll have more data to drop into planetary geology models." And now it does. Thanks!

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