Up close with one of the solar system's biggest asteroids

NASA debuts stunning high-resolution pictures of the gargantuan 330-mile-diameter Vesta asteroid.

A 3,543 by 1,993 pixel map of Vesta. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Next time you're flying around the universe, don't forget your map of the mammoth Vesta asteroid that saunters around the solar system. On Friday, NASA released a set of Vesta mosaics compiled from 10,000 images that the Dawn spacecraft captured during its temporary orbit of the giant space rock, also known as a protoplanet.

The atlas and accompanying pictures provide stellar detail due to Dawn's vantage point, which was 130 miles above Vesta's surface. Vesta, located in our solar system's asteroid belt, contains a very dynamic landscape filled with countless canyons, craters, valleys, and a mountain that stands about three times the size of Mount Everest.

Just one of many super high resolution shots of Vesta's wild exterior. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

"The atlas shows how extreme the terrain is on a body the size of Vesta," said Thomas Roatsch, who works with the German Aerospace Center and presented the images at the European Planetary Science Congress 2013 in London. "In the south pole projection alone, the Severina crater contours reach a depth of 11 miles." The crater, in turn, is "just over 60 miles away from the mountain peak towers [which are] about 4 miles high."

Dawn no longer orbits Vesta, as its handlers currently have the spacecraft en route to another humongous asteroid named Ceres, which it should reach in 2015.

Vesta's an easy target for its neighbors in the asteroid belt. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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