Dawn Spacecraft Offers New Views of Asteroid Vesta’s Surface — PICTURES

May 10, 2012, 1:57 p.m.

NASA re­leased im­ages from its probe of the large as­ter­oid Vesta taken from the Dawn space­craft on Thursday, and said the im­ages sup­port the the­ory that met­eor­ites found on Earth came from it. 

Vesta is con­sidered to be a proto-plan­et, more akin to the Earth’s moon or a small plan­et than a typ­ic­al as­ter­oid. It’s unique in our sol­ar sys­tem as a sur­viv­or of the era about 4.5 bil­lion years ago, when the plan­ets ac­creted from bod­ies much like Vesta to form Earth, Mars, Venus and Mer­cury. Like these plan­ets, it has an iron core, a mantle and a sur­face crust.

Vesta resides in the as­ter­oid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and was about 117 mil­lion miles from Earth when Dawn ar­rived in mid-2011. NASA has ex­ten­ded Dawn’s mis­sion at Vesta by 40 days, al­low­ing the space­craft to con­tin­ue its ob­ser­va­tions of the as­ter­oid through Au­gust 26, be­fore it leaves for the dwarf plan­et Ceres.