This video shows the scientists' best guess to date of what the surface of the protoplanet Vesta might look like. It was created as part of an exercise for NASA's Dawn mission involving mission planners at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and science team members at the German Aerospace Center and the Planetary Science Institute.


The purpose of the Dawn mission is to understand what was happening in the opening chapter of our solar system's history.

To do that, we are going to explore the two most massive objects in the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres, which are time capsules from that early chapter.

Dawn is going to arrive at Vesta in July 2011, go into orbit around it and map its surface. Even with the Hubble space telescope and ground-based telescopes, scientists only have a fuzzy view of what Vesta looks like.

We won’t know really what the surface of Vesta looks like until Dawn gets there.

This video shows one of the best guesses so far about the lumpy shape of Vesta.

It also shows the type of craters that we might expect to find, based on what we see on Earth's moon. Another version of the Vesta surface was constructed using a different technique, as seen in this series of still images.

These two versions of Vesta's surface came from an exercise that the Dawn team conducted to practice mapping the topography of Vesta.

The exercise helped Dawn science planners tweak the imaging plans to improve the resolution of the topographic maps we will make when we get to Vesta. The Virtual Vesta simulation has been fun and helpful,

but we can't wait to see what the real Vesta looks like.

Stay tuned for Dawn's high-resolution images and maps of this enigmatic world.
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