Dawn spacecraft provides striking new images of asteroid Vesta

Source / Credit: CNN

(CNN) — The Dawn spacecraft mission could answer some of the big questions about the Big Bang, NASA scientists said Monday as they released the latest images from the mission.

Carrying innovative new instrumentation from the Italian and German space agencies, Dawn is providing unprecedented images of the asteroid Vesta, a roughly 4.65 billion-year-old asteroid with twice the surface area of California.

 NASA hosted a press conference at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, with panelists that included scientists from Germany and Italy.

According to Holger Sierks, of the Max Planck Society in Germany, the north end of the asteroid alone is “so rich in features, it will keep the science team busy for years.”

Photographic maps and color composite images of the asteroid surface will provide hints into the evolution and chemistry on Vesta, revealing key hints about the early solar system and what minerals make up the asteroid.

Composite images are already showing Vesta’s surface to be much more dynamic than expected. Enrico Flamini, chief scientist from the Italian space agency, said Dawn will provide a “new view on the beginning of the solar system.”

Chris Russell, the project’s principal investigator, said that while it will take the higher-resolution images from later in the mission to answer the major questions, progress so far is encouraging. The craters on the asteroid have “features in them that we did not expect,” he said, “and we’re learning about theses processes that create these features now.”

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