Tag Archives: Vesta

NASA reveals two new spectacular photos of Ceres

NASA released a new set of images of Ceres – and they’re a sight to behold.

A false-color image of Haulani Crater shows evidence of recent landslides. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The pictures were taken by the Dawn spacecraft, a space probe launched by NASA in 2007 to study Vesta and Ceres. After spending time around Vesta and revealing a trove of valuable information about it, Dawn is now orbiting Ceres already providing some surprises.

“Ceres continues to amaze, yet puzzle us, as we examine our multitude of images, spectra and now energetic particle bursts,” said Chris Russell, Dawn principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The image above is of the Haulani Crater, a surprisingly bright impact crater on Ceres. It was taken when Dawn was still in its high-altitude mapping orbit, about 1,480 kilometers (920 miles) above Ceres. Spectacular as this image is, it was made to look even better. The image has been color enhanced, and the blueish streak you see is not the natural color of the crater.

“Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres. The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface,” said Dr. Martin Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany, in a statement.

Oxo Crater with the “slump” to the bottom right. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Another intriguing picture was snapped of the Oxo Crater, the second brightest feature on Ceres. Minerals on the bottom of this crater appear to be different than on the rest of the protoplanet, and astronomers want to study it in more detail in the future.

NASA continues to reveal insights about Ceres

At the European Planetary Science Conference in Nantes, France, NASA presented some spectacular maps and observations about Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, and the largest of the minor planets within the orbit of Neptune. Astronomers analyzed data coming from the Dawn spacecraft, which entered orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015.

This view, made using images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, is a color-coded topographic map of Occator crater on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

“Ceres continues to amaze, yet puzzle us, as we examine our multitude of images, spectra and now energetic particle bursts,” said Chris Russell, Dawn principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles.

This color-coded map from NASA’s Dawn mission shows the highs and lows of topography on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres – basically a topography map. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

For starters, NASA revealed tantalizing (false-color) maps of Ceres which definitely stole the show in Nantes. The maps highlight the compositional differences present on the surface, especially a puzzling, cone-shaped 4-mile-high (6-kilometer-high) mountain which is still an enigma. The mountain, which is now referred to as the Lonely Mountain, was found back in April, and while several theories have been proposed, no satisfying answer has stood out. Dawn’s chief investigator Christopher Russell said:

“We’re having difficulty understanding what made that mountain and we have been getting many suggestions from the public.”

The peculiar shapes of the craters on Ceres are also surprising.

“The irregular shapes of craters on Ceres are especially interesting, resembling craters we see on Saturn’s icy moon Rhea,” said Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “They are very different from the bowl-shaped craters on Vesta.” Vesta is another large planetoid in the area.

Another unexpected observation was the data coming from the gamma ray and neutron spectrometer on Dawn. The instrument detected three bursts of energetic electrons – these may result from the interaction between Ceres and the Sun’s radiation, but that’s also not confirmed.

“This is a very unexpected observation for which we are now testing hypotheses,” Russell said.

Observations made on Ceres suggest that it has a differentiated body, a rocky core overlain with an icy mantle. This 100-kilometer-thick mantle (23%–28% of Ceres by mass) contains up to 200 million cubic kilometers of water, which would be more than the amount of fresh water on Earth. This result is supported by the observations made by the Keck telescope in 2002 and by evolutionary modeling, and Dawn observations are also consistent.

Dawn became the firsts mission to ever reach a dwarf planet, arriving at the planetoid on March 6, 2015, after it conducted measurements on March 6, 2015. Currently, Dawn is orbiting Ceres at an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers); it will conduct several full orbits, each of which will last 11 days.


Asteroid Vesta once had flowing water

According to a new study, water once flowed on the surface of Vesta, the third-largest asteroid in the solar system. This took astronomers by surprise, as even if water does form on asteroids, it tends to evaporate very quickly.

“Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates,” study lead author Jennifer Scully, a postgraduate researcher at UCLA, said in a NASA statement. “However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body.”

Cornelia Crater lies on the large asteroid Vesta. The inset image at right shows an example of curved gullies (indicated by short white arrows), and a fan-shaped deposit (indicated by long white arrows). Image released Jan. 21, 2015.

With a mean diameter of 525 kilometres (326 mi), Vesta comprises an estimated 9% of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the second heaviest body in the belt between Mars and Jupiter after the dwarf planet Ceres. The less-massive Pallas is slightly larger, making Vesta third in volume.

Scully and her team analyzed images of Vesta taken by the Dawn spacecraft during the period it orbited the asteroid – from July 2011 to September 2012. They observed curved gullies and fan-shaped deposits within eight different Vesta impact craters. These channels are very similar to channels carved by “debris flows” here on Earth, which are caused by water moving around dirts and rock. Debris flows are geological phenomena in which water flows down, also moving masses of soil and fragmented rock down mountainsides. They then funnel into stream channels, entrain objects in their paths, and form thick, characteristic muddy deposits on valley floors.

Debris flow on Earth, in the Himalayas. Image via Wikipedia.

Those craters are much younger than the asteroid itself; while Vesta’s age is estimated at 4.56 billion years, the craters are less than 100 million years old. The thing is, we don’t know for sure that water carved thos gullies and deposits, but there’s almost nothing else that could have, so it seems quite likely that Vesta once had flowing water in the past 100 million years.

“They form kind of complex networks, similar to what we see in [Arizona’s] Meteor Crater,” Scully told Space.com last month at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, where she presented the results. (The study is also being published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.)

It should be kept in mind that when they say “flowing water”, it’s not like a river or a stream, but it’s a debris flow. Smaller quantities of water, moving around mud and rocks. The team proposes that meteorite strikes melted subsurface ice deposits, creating significant quantities of water. This means that Vesta also has significant quantities of ice, something which has been hinted at, but not proven yet.

“If present today, the ice would be buried too deeply to be detected by any of Dawn’s instruments,” Scully said in the NASA statement. “However, the craters with curved gullies are associated with pitted terrain, which has been independently suggested as evidence for loss of volatile gases from Vesta.”

Gullies have also been reported on the surface of Mars, indicating flowing water on the Red Planet. Image source: NASA.

While the water would have eventually evaporated, it would have still had enough time to create the gullies and mud deposits.

The study raises even more interest in the asteroid belt. Vesta, Ceres and Pallas in particular seem to hide important secrets, and it should be also remembered that a study in 2012 claimed that asteroid belts are crucial for the development of life.

“We look forward to uncovering even more insights and mysteries when Dawn studies Ceres,” said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell, also of UCLA.

Dawn spacecraft will soon figure out what Ceres actually is

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has set sail to Ceres – one of the most intriguing objects in our solar system. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, containing a third of all the mass in the asteroid belt. The unmanned Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in early 2015, and will hopefully shed provide new insights not only on Ceres itself, but also the asteroid belt and the solar system.

Ceres as seen by Hubble Space Telescope (ACS). The contrast has been enhanced to reveal surface details.

The asteroid belt is a very accurate name – it represents the place between  the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter, occupied by numerous irregular bodies, called asteroids. But among all these asteroids, Ceres alone is considered a dwarf planet – an object the size of a planet (a planetary-mass object) but that is neither a planet nor a moon or other natural satellite. Ceres has a diameter of about 950 km, and to put it bluntly… we don’t really know what it is.

Ceres is probably a surviving protoplanet (planetary embryo), which formed 4.57 billion years ago in the asteroid belt – this is the main theory. In 2014, Ceres was found to have an atmosphere with water vapor, confirmed by the Herschel space telescope, which adds even more mystery to Ceres. Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt is also a point of interest.

“These two bodies are much more massive than any body yet visited in this region of space and are truly small planets,” the Dawn mission team, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), wrote in their mission statement.

Studying these objects could also tell us more about our solar system – no matter what’s there, it’s almost certainly unchanged since the early days of the planetary formation.

Ceres (bottom left), the Moon and the Earth, shown to scale. Image via Wiki Commons.

“When Dawn visits Ceres and Vesta, the spacecraft steps us back in solar system time,” the JPL team said.

In 2007, Dawn paid a short visit to Vesta, and found a dry and metallic wasteland. Astronauts are expecting quite a different story with Ceres – maybe even some water under the icy surface, though that’s highly debatable. Whatever it is, the good thing is that we’ll have a chance to study.

“Now, finally, we have a spacecraft on the verge of unveiling this mysterious, alien world,” Marc Rayman, chief engineer and mission director of the Dawn mission, said in a statement. “Soon it will reveal myriad secrets Ceres has held since the dawn of the solar system.”

Asteroid Vesta is a lot like Earth, study shows

The cold, lifeless Vesta asteroid might be a lot more like our planet than astronomers believed – having a very active life in the early stages of the solar system evolution, a study of a Saharan meteorite shows.

The planet that wasn’t


Vesta might host a magmatic layer under its rocky exterior, allowing minerals to travel between softer and harder layers of material, according to a study published online Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience. If this were true, then Vesta is a lot more Earth like than previously believed.

“People think asteroids are big, gray, cold, almost potato-shaped lumps of rock that sometimes crash into the Earth and threaten us,” said study leader Beverley Tkalcec, a planetary geologist at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Instead, she said, “it has a dynamic interior similar to what might have been at the beginning of the Earth.”

Hot or not, Vesta is just big enough to have experienced melting inside. When this happens, the thicker, heavier material sinks towards the center and the lighter stuff gets pushed towards the crust. In this way, Vesta (much like its “cousin” Ceres) are planetary embryos that never really came to life, and since there are no tectonics to recirculate the rocks, the rocks are probably as old as the solar system.

The crystal and the electron

The study was conducted on a meteorite which is believed to have carved out Vesta’s mantle by impact; they made the connection between the meteorite by analysing its chemical and isotopical composition. However, unlike other studies which focus on the composition, this one focused on how the matter is distributed; if Vesta were indeed active beneath the surface and have a magmatic layer, then some clues should pop out.

The researchers used a technique called electron backscatter diffraction, in which basically electrons are bounced off crystals to determine their structure. They focused their research on a mineral called olivine (we’ve occasionally written about this mineral, see here) and found that instead of a regular pile of crystals with one sitting on top of each other, the crystal lattice was severely deformed.


Olivine crystals

They then tried to find something equivalent to this, and they found that the only rocks which resemble this type of structure is with igneous rocks formed by forces in Earth’s mantle – something which led to the natural conclusion that the meteorite is probably a result of the same process on Vesta, with the heavier elements sinking in.

They then plugged this data into a computer model of Vesta and found that, given specific conditions, the asteroid could host a magma ocean.

“When you have dense solid material over partially molten material, then it’s unstable,” said Harry McSween, a planetary geoscientist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and co-investigator for the Dawn mission. “The top’s trying to become the bottom and the bottom’s trying to become the top.”

Among other things, Vesta is believer to host water and have a mountain 3 times bigger than the Everest.

Vesta covered in carbon by gentle asteroids

Vesta is “peppered” with carbon materials which researchers believe were left behind by asteroids gently striking its surface.

Vesta is an asteroid itself – but one so large that some astronauts were actually thinking about declaring it a planet, or at least a protoplanet. It is the second largest asteroid in our solar system, second only to Ceres, comprising 9% of the total mass in the asteroid belt. This year, Vesta has been studied in detail by the Dawn spacecraft.

It is actually the first evidence astronomers have about asteroid material across a large body’s surface, and it could explain the curious patterns observed by Dawn, which orbited Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012.

“The earliest images we had of the surface — shortly after going into orbit — were sometimes spectacular examples of very bright and very dark material on the surface,” said researcher Tom McCord of the Bear Fight Institute, a science research facility in Washington state. McCord is the lead author of a study reporting the findings that will be published in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Nature.

They had three initial theories regarding the dark coloured patterns: they could either be volcanic basalts which are typically black, they could be “shock-melted and darkened” material melted from the surface heat caused by impacts, or it could be carbonic, primitive organic material.

The light spectrum analysis revealead that the black matter came off of asteroids, and that it also contains lots of hydrogen and hydroxyl in the materials, which tends to be present in carbonaceous asteroids.

“All of that is consistent, but it doesn’t [definitively] prove carbonaceous chondrite material,” he said. “There are pieces of material, and there is no evidence of any other source that we can think of, at least.”

This perspective view of Marcia crater on the giant asteroid Vesta shows the most spectacularly preserved example of "pitted terrain," an unexpected discovery in data returned by NASA's Dawn mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/JHUAPL

Hints of water found on the giant space rock Vesta

Two studies conducted by scientists at NASA based on data gathered by the Dawn spacecraft, which orbited around the Vesta asteroid, showed that the giant space rock holds tantalizing signs of water on its surface – albeit in very small amounts, in the form of hydrated minerals.

This perspective view of Marcia crater on the giant asteroid Vesta shows the most spectacularly preserved example of "pitted terrain," an unexpected discovery in data returned by NASA's Dawn mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/JHUAPL

This perspective view of Marcia crater on the giant asteroid Vesta shows the most spectacularly preserved example of “pitted terrain,” an unexpected discovery in data returned by NASA’s Dawn mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/JHUAPL

These conclusions were drawn after scientists found that volatile, or easily evaporated materials, have colored Vesta’s surface in a broad swath around its equator. Again, concerning its geometry,  peculiar pothole-like features mark some of the asteroid’s surface where the volatiles, likely water, released from hydrated minerals boiled off and eroded the rock. These formations have been found to be extremely similar to those on Mars, however while the planet is known to have been abundant  in water at a time; these feature identified on Vesta, an asteroid, took scientists particularly by surprise.

Again, no actual water was found, but scientists explain that due to the high energy release during collisions with other space rocks, the hydrogen bound to the minerals was converted into water, which instantly evaporated and thus geologically shaped the asteroid. The holes that were left as the water escaped stretch as much as 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) across and go down as deep as 700 feet (200 meters).

“The source of the hydrogen within Vesta’s surface appears to be hydrated minerals delivered by carbon-rich space rocks that collided with Vesta at speeds slow enough to preserve their volatile content,” said Thomas Prettyman, the lead scientist for Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

At first, the researchers hypothesized that it might be possible for ice water to survive on the surface of the asteroid, at its poles. However,  Vesta has no permanently shadowed polar regions where ice might survive, and is permanently exposed to sunlight in a cyclic fashion.

“These results provide evidence that not only were hydrated materials present, but they played an important role in shaping the asteroid’s geology and the surface we see today.”

The Dawn spacecraft left last month from Vesta’s orbit, which is the 2nd largest rock in the asteroid belt, and is currently heading for the dwarf planet of Ceres – the biggest rock in the asteroid belt.

The findings were described in two papers published in the journal Science.


NASA’s Dawn spaceship departs Vesta asteroid, heads for Ceres

It’s one asteroid down and one to go, for NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. After spending a year studying the Vesta asteroid and retrieving valuable information to Earth, Dawn is now ready to head for its next destination: Ceres.

A different world

Scientists expect Ceres to be very different from Vesta. Ceres is considered to be the largest asteroid in our solar system, accounting for about a third of all the mass in the asteroid belt; in fact, it is a dwarf planet (the only one in the inner system), discovered more than 200 years ago, in 1801 – however, it was thought to be a full sized planet at the moment.

Ceres highlights a rocky inner core, and an icy mantle, and many believe it might hold a liquid ocean beneath the icy surface. The 100 km mantle has more freshwater than the Earth, and while exobiologists haven’t speculated on this matter as much as with Europa, for example, there is a possibility of life existing in the liquid water – if there is such a thing on Ceres.

Leaving Vesta

Vesta is a large asteroid too, the second largest one in our solar system, after Ceres, of course, with a mean diameter of about 525 kilometers; among its notable features, there lies a mountain about three times taller than Mount Everest. After spending one year on Vesta, Dawn slowly powered up its ion thrusters, slowly spiraling away from it after it can finally break free from the gravitational field. However, since its antenna has been pointed away from Earth, researchers have to wait until Wednesday to know if everything went according to plan – pretty much like with the ‘seven minutes of terror‘, for Curiosity. Still, it’s not the same thing.

“It’s not a sudden event. There’s no whiplash-inducing maneuver. There’s no tension, no anxiety,” said chief engineer Marc Rayman of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $466 million mission. “It’s all very gentle and very graceful.”

A new Dawn

The Dawn shuttle is about to reach a historical landmark, if it succeeds in its three year trip: it will become the first shuttle to ‘hook up’ with two different celestial bodies – in a bid to learn more about our solar system’s evolution, and the asteroids themselves.

During its one year stay at Vesta, Dawn was quite busy, using its cameras, infrared spectrometer, gamma ray and neutron detector to explore the asteroid from different altitudes, getting as close as 209 kilometers from its surface; and it wasn’t in vain: Dawn revealed quite a few surprises.

Scientists have long known Vesta is scarred at its southern pole, likely from an impact with a smaller asteroid, but a closer inspection revealed Vesta has another scar pretty close to the first one – evidence that it has been hit twice by asteroids in the last 2 billion years. The collision threw shrapnel like pieces of rock into outer space, some of them actually landing on Earth as meteorites.

Asteroids – friend and foe

Asteroids have been given a lot of attention lately – for varied reasons. There is of course the always present fear that some naughty asteroid might head for our planet and whack us to oblivion – though now NASA keeps track of virtually all near-Earth asteroids, and even with today’s technology, there are ways to deflect an asteroid.

President Barack Obama canceled a return to the moon in favor of landing astronauts on a yet-to-be-selected asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars, and perhaps even more interesting – a number of tech billionaires are planning to mine asteroids for rare metals (gold, platinum, iridium, etc).

Researchers expect a much changed story on Ceres. Unlike the rocky Vesta, the nearly spherical Ceres has a dusty surface with an icy interior.

“Almost everything we see at Ceres will be a surprise and totally different from Vesta,” Russell said.

Via NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Shorties: Asteroid has mountain three times bigger than Everest

A giant mountain, three times taller than Earth’s highest peak marks the southern polar regions of Vesta, a relatively well studied asteroid spotted by NASA’s Dawn Science Probe. The mountain is depicted in the picture below.

Dawn orbited around Vesta, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in July, and since then, it received a whole lot of attention; scientists plan to discuss more details about the mission on Wednesday as part of the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles. (c) NASA

NASA’s DAWN spacecraft successfully enters Vesta’s orbit. Snaps detailed photo

This weekend, NASA‘s DAWN spacecraft finally put a lot of tension and nerves to rest after it successfully entered Vesta’s orbit, the second largest object in the Asteroid Belt.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles. (c) NASA

NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles. (c) NASA

The whole event took place at 1 a.m. EDT Saturday (0500 GMT), marking the first time a man made spacecraft entered the orbit of an object from the Asteroid Belt. Although everything was set in motion according to plan, scientists from NASA’s Dawn mission control center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. were pretty nervous anyway since the lag between transmissions meant Dawn could not communicate with Earth while its ion thrusters were firing. Everything went smooth, though.

“Dawn slipped gently into orbit with the same grace it has displayed during its years of ion thrusting through interplanetary space,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission manager at JPL. “It is fantastically exciting that we will begin providing humankind its first detailed views of one of the last unexplored worlds in the inner solar system.”

Observed by astronomers around the world for the last 200 years, first with land telescopes and then with massive space orbiting magnifiers, this incredible photo as seen above in this article is the most detailed look upon Vesta so far, as seen by DAWN on July 17.

“We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell, of UCLA, in a statement.

Vesta is thought to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth, according to NASA, and at 330 miles (530 kilometers) wide, Vesta is actually considered a protoplanet. The huge asteroid was on its way to becoming a full-fledged rocky planet like Earth or Mars before Jupiter’s gravity stirred up the asteroid belt, astronomers believe.

NASA’s Dawn will continue to circle Vesta’s orbit for the next year, as it transmit data back home which hopefully will help scientists better understand the solar system’s early days and the processes that have formed and shaped the rocky planets. The protoplanet and Dawn are about 117 million miles away from Earth.

Hubble Space Telescope images of Vesta and Ceres show two of the most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt, a region between Mars and Jupiter. Credits for Vesta: NASA, ESA, and L. McFadden (University of Maryland) Credits for Ceres: NASA, ESA, and J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute)

NASA spacecraft set to visit giant asteroid this weekend

Hubble Space Telescope images of Vesta and Ceres show two of the most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt, a region between Mars and Jupiter. Credits for Vesta: NASA, ESA, and L. McFadden (University of Maryland) Credits for Ceres: NASA, ESA, and J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute)

Hubble Space Telescope images of Vesta and Ceres show two of the most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt, a region between Mars and Jupiter. Credits for Vesta: NASA, ESA, and L. McFadden (University of Maryland) Credits for Ceres: NASA, ESA, and J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute)

After a four year journey, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will finally reach the orbit of Vesta, the second largest asteroid in our solar system.

The object, located 117 million miles from Earth and spanning across a circumference of 329 miles, will be visited in premiere by Dawn this weekend when the latter will hover over on July 16. For whoever’s interested, the exact time is 1:00 a.m. EDT.

“It has taken nearly four years to get to this point,” said Dawn project manager Robert Mase of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a press release. “Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally.”

The target in question is located in an asteroid- rich filled zone, in between the  solar system’s inner and outer planets. Propulsion and navigation had been powered by Mars’ gravitational force and Dawn’s own ion-powered thrusters. Once the spaceship reaches Dawn, it’s scheduled to hover about 9,900 miles above the asteroid’s surface for a whole year and, in this time, use two different cameras, a gamma-ray detector and a neutron detector to study and map the object. After this part of the mission is over, next July, Down’s ion thrusters will catapult the spaceship out of orbit and towards the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt.

Meanwhile, NASA has another asteroid mission running, spearhead by the Osiris-Rex spacecraft, which is supposed to land and collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, before returning home to Houston by 2023.

Very little is know about both Vesta and Ceres, although a lot of theories are currently emitting suppositions. Vesta maybe once had a molten core before going cold after a few million years, while Ceres, some believe, may have an icy mantle and active mud volcanoes.