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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Vesta, A Virgin No More: A Limerick

Harry McSween, Distinguished ProfessorCollege of Arts and Sciences - Departmanet of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Vesta is the second-most massive asteroid. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, now orbiting and mapping the body, has revealed its secrets. Dawn’s ion propulsion system has made it the fastest manmade object. The spacecraft carries cameras to image the surface and spectrometers to measure its composition, and tracking of its orbital path constrains the nature of its interior. Meteorites, which may have been excavated from Vesta, are used to interpret Dawn results, and the distributions of similar volcanic rocks have been mapped. Craters of all sizes pockmark Vesta’s surface. A huge impact created a basin at the south pole that scattered material over half the body, exposed the deep interior, and created curious ridges encircling the equator. Ancient Vesta is one of a very few surviving planetesimals like those that accreted to form the Earth, and thus it provides a unique window on early solar system processes.​

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