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.