An unusual "pitted terrain" is seen on the floors of the craters named Marcia (L) and Cornelia (R) on the giant asteroid Vesta, in these enhanced-color views from NASA's Dawn mission, in this combo image released on September 20, 2012. NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed that the giant asteroid Vesta has its own version of a ring around the collar. Two new papers based on observations from the low-altitude mapping orbit of the Dawn mission show that volatile, or easily evaporated materials, have colored Vesta's surface in a broad swath around its equator. (Photo : Reuters)
Volatiles, materials that easily evaporate, coloration has been discovered on the surface of the massive asteroid Vesta, NASA reported on Thursday. The materials, which are most likely water, colored the surface of the asteroid in a "broad swath around its equator" scientists said.
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The discovery was made by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which found two pockmark-like craters on Vesta that contained hydrated materials.
Thomas Prettyman, who wrote a paper on the findings and is the lead scientist for Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) at the Planetary Science Institute, said, "The source of the hydrogen within Vesta's surface appears to be hydrated minerals delivered by carbon-rich space rocks that collided with Vesta at speeds slow enough to preserve their volatile content.
NASA reported that Dawn did not find water ice on Vesta, but said that GRaND's data is the first measurement of Vesta's surface elemental composition. Scientists expected to find possible water ice near Vesta's poles but instead discovered the hydrated materials near the asteroid's equator.
According to NASA, Dawn discovered the ratios of iron to oxygen and iron to silicon on the giant asteroid's surface and confirmed its connection to "a class of meteorites found on Earth called the Howardite, Eucrite and Diogenite meteorites.
Brett Denevi, a Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory scientist and Dawn participant, wrote a complimentary paper, which explained the pockmarked terrain created on Vesta.
"The pits look just like features seen on Mars, but while water was common on Mars, it was totally unexpected on Vesta in these high abundances. These results provide evidence that not only were hydrated materials present, but they played an important role in shaping the asteroid's geology and the surface we see today," Denevi said.
According to the report, Vesta is the second largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt. Dawn left the asteroid on September 5 EDT (September 4 PDT) and is headed towards the dwarf planet Ceres.
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