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Explore the asteroid Vesta in 3D with a new NASA web application

April 25, 2015 Leave a comment

vesta3dmainAbove: The main 3D interface (click image to enlarge)

In July 2011, four years on from it’s launch in 2007, the NASA Dawn spacecraft parked itself in orbit above the second largest asteroid in our Solar System and proceeded to take a series of high resolution photographs as well as gathering a wealth of other scientific data. Now NASA have combined the images and data into a spectacular 3D web-based application which lets everyone explore the surface in amazing detail. To use the NASA Vesta Trek application go here http://vestatrek.jpl.nasa.gov/

It is useful to take the brief interactive tour that you are presented with at the start to familiarise yourself with the layout and various analysis tools that are available. Initially your view will be flat in 2D, but just head to the 3D button at bottom left of the screen and you get the much more visually appealing and fun-to-use 3D view. If you click on the menu buttons at top right a panel slides out from the right (click the menu buttons on the panel again to hide the side panel). This panel has some great information buried in the various layers, which each have a visibility button and transparency slider so that you can adjust single or multiple stacked layers of information as desired.

The data layers available include element composition of surface layers, with some detailed layers showing Hydrogen and Iron distribution based on Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector analysis of the interaction of cosmic rays with the surface materials. In addition there is an excellent geological map, a true colour image and useful colour or black and white hillshade tools that really bring out the relief.

vestageologyAbove: The geological map layer (click image to enlarge)

vestacolorhillshadeAbove: The colour hillshade layer brings out terrain relief (click image to enlarge)

In the Tools menu I had great fun with the Line tool to derive elevation profiles of craters and the strange ridge terrain around the bulging equator of the asteroid. Simply select the Line tool and draw a line across something interesting in the terrain with the mouse. Now left click on the yellow line and from the popup box select Calculate Elevation. Another pop-up box appears with a terrain elevation model measured in elevation and distance. If you run your mouse left to right along this elevation chart you will see a corresponding marker move along your drawn yellow line so that you can see where you are on the line – genius !!

vestaridgeelevationsAbove: Investigating the terrain of the equatorial ridges with the Line tool (click image to enlarge)

Bringing education and the use of cutting edge technology bang up to date NASA have even provided blueprint data so that if you happen to have access to a 3D printer (I want one now !!!) you can even print out an accurate 3D model of the asteroid as a whole, or selected individual features in the terrain – how cool is that !!!

The Dawn spacecraft left Vesta in late 2011 and moved onto the dwarf planet Ceres. In February 2015 Dawn arrived at Ceres and is now starting to map it’s surface. I’m looking forward to seeing the Ceres data presented in a similarly interactive way and i’m particularly interested in finding out more about the currently unexplained bright spots visible in some of it’s craters.  You can follow the Dawn mission here http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/

vestanorthpoleAbove: The terrain at the north pole of Vesta (click image to enlarge)

Asteroid 97 Klotho Passing Through Virgo

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

The blue arrow marks the asteroid 97 Klotho passing through the constellation Virgo on 26/2/12 at 4.46am New Mexico time (UTC -7). First discovered by E.W. Tempel in Marseille on 17th February 1868 Klotho is a main-belt asteroid with a diameter of 82.83 km. It rotates 35 times per hour and has an absolute magnitude of 7.63. In this image Klotho has just passed the large red star HIP 61658 and to the top right you can see the spiral galaxy NGC 4536 with the much fainter NGC 4533 galaxy above it.  The asteroid was named after one of the three Fates (Moirae to the Greeks, Parcae to the Romans), Klotho, who carried a spindle and a globe and spun the thread of life. The other Fates were Lachesis and Atropos.  T20 1 x 600 sec. RA 12:37:49 DEC 1:44:20

The image below shows the orbital track of this asteroid through the solar system marked in blue….

Categories: Asteroids

Now Showing from a Spacecraft Near You – The Asteroid Vesta !

August 20, 2011 Leave a comment

While the last space shuttle mission dominated the news in July the arrival of NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft in orbit around the second largest asteroid in our solar system on July 16th seems to have passed almost unnoticed. This exciting mission looks at the early formation and development of the planetary bodies in our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago by visiting the proto-planets Vesta and Ceres which reside in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The development of Vesta and Ceres into much larger planetary bodies was halted by the effects of Jupiters gravity as the giant gas planet expanded, so they are effectively frozen in time and retain important chemical and geological information about the first building blocks of planets like Earth, Mars and Venus. While Vesta is a dry, cratered and largely basaltic body with evidence of past lava flows Ceres is altogether different being covered in a dusty clay-like surface with evidence of water, possibly trapped in a thick water-ice mantle.

Vesta – NASA/Dawn

Dawn will spend a year orbiting around the 330 mile wide Vesta taking high resolution images with its 260 metres per pixel framing camera, measuring the gravity field and exploring her makeup with the aid of various spectrometers. The spacecraft will then move onto a rendezvous with Ceres in February 2015 and the mission will end in July 2015. You can follow the progress of the mission here http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/ and there are some stunning images starting to be published here on the Dawn Image of the Day pages http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/image_of_the_day_Aug11.asp

You can always have a look at Vesta yourself of course through binoculars or a telescope. Vesta is currently moving westward through the constellation Capricornus low in the south and should be around magnitude 5.6 having reached opposition on August 5th.

Location of Vesta as on 19-8-11 (Stellarium 0.11.0)

Categories: Asteroids