Vesta asteroid is shrouded in many colors

A new video shot by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft depicts a dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. 

The animation layers high-resolution false color images over a 3D model of the Vesta terrain constructed from Dawn’s observations.

This visualization enables a detailed view of the variation in the material properties of Vesta in the context of its topography.

According to NASA, the colors were chosen to highlight differences in surface composition that are too subtle for the human eye to see. Indeed, scientists are still attempting to analyze what some of the colors mean for the composition of the surface.

However, it is quite clear that the orange material thrown out from some impact craters is different from the surrounding surface material. Green shows the relative abundance of iron – and parts of the huge impact basin known as Rheasilvia in Vesta’s southern hemisphere have areas with less iron than nearby areas.

Dawn has imaged the majority of the surface of Vesta with the framing camera to provide the above 3D map. While some areas in the north were in shadow at the time the images were obtained by the camera, Dawn is slated to improve its coverage of Vesta’s northern hemisphere with additional observations. 

The spacecraft is currently spiraling up from its lowest-altitude orbit into its final science orbit, where its average altitude will be about 420 miles (680 kilometers). Dawn is scheduled to leave Vesta around Aug. 26.