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Mosaic view of a massive asteroid

Dawn, a spacecraft launched by NASA to study large objects in our solar system's asteroid belt, caught some great views of asteroid Vesta. The large asteroid is seen here in a mosaic compiled from Dawn's greatest-hits images. The spacecraft spent over a year studying the asteroid. This image shows a massive mountain, twice the size of Mount Everest, at the asteroid's south pole.

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Vesta meteorite on Earth

This 1.4-pound meteorite was discovered on Earth and has been traced to the large asteroid Vesta. Vesta has been under study by NASA's Dawn Mission, which helped to verify this meteorite's identity through the data it gathered from the asteroid. This specimen is a sample from Vesta's crust. It consists mainly of pyroxene, a mineral commonly found in lava flows.

Published:Caption:Photo:R. Kempton (New England Meteoritical Services)
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Vesta's pitted terrain in color

These two enhanced images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft show the floors of two craters, known as Marcia and Cornelia. NASA offers this explanation for the unusual terrain: "Scientists think low-speed collisions with carbon-rich meteorites left hydrated minerals on Vesta's surface. It is thought that heat generated during later, high-speed collisions with asteroid belt rocks released water that was previously bound within the hydrated minerals. This water is thought to have explosively degassed into space, leaving behind pothole-like depressions as it escaped."

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Potholes on an asteroid

NASA scientists weren't expecting to see this sort of pitted terrain on massive asteroid Vesta until the Dawn spacecraft sent back detailed images of the landscape. This picture shows the floor of the Marcia crater where a large concentration of pits are located. The crater itself is 40 miles wide.

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Marcia Crater rim on Vesta

The Marcia crater was created on giant asteroid Vesta somewhere between 120 and 390 million years ago. This NASA image shows the contrast between dark and light material at the crater's west rim. Scientists believe the bright surface area is original to the asteroid while the darker areas were created when meteorites impacted the surface.

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Vesta topography in color

Vesta, an asteroid the size of Arizona, has some interesting surface features shaped by massive meteorite impacts during its billions of years of history. This color-coded topographic map was created by analyzing 17,000 images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. It shows the pockmarked surface of the asteroid in great detail.

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Image map of Vesta

NASA released this mosaic map of asteroid Vesta in 2013. It's compiled from 10,000 images taken by the Dawn spacecraft during its mission to study Vesta and Ceres, a dwarf planet that resides in the same asteroid belt. Dawn took images from 130 miles above the asteroid, allowing impressive detail of the surface.

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Artist's conception of Dawn and Ceres

NASA's Dawn Mission sent a spacecraft off to study two large objects in an asteroid belt in 2007. Dawn first arrived at Vesta, a huge asteroid, in 2011 and spent over a year capturing imagery and data there. The spacecraft is currently on its way to visit Ceres, a dwarf planet, with an expected arrival in the spring of 2015. This artist's conception of the mission shows Dawn and Ceres together.

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