Monday, December 12, 2011

Vesta is a Differentiated Planetoid






Once again, I suspect that rocky planets such as Earth and Mars are produced as ejects from Jupiter which does the heavy lifting in terms of accumulating the mass and clearing out the Solar System.  Jupiter is close by the point of rotational instability and a mass the size of Earth rapidly acquired would be spun up and ejected back out.

I go further than that and propose Venus is a recent addition to the Solar System and that its scar on Jupiter is the Red Spot.  However most of the planet making activity took place during the early years of the formation of the Solar system and we have a very good explanation for the formation of a solar system.  The late arrival of Venus is plausibly caused by deliberate intervention as was the crustal shift that ended the Great Ice Age here on Earth.

Thus discovering a much smaller ejecta body such as Vesta is actually to be expected.

Vesta

Dec 9, 2011: NASA's Dawn spacecraft spent the last four years voyaging to asteroid Vesta – and may have found a planet.

Vesta was discovered over two hundred years ago but, until Dawn, has been seen only as an indistinct blur and considered little more than a large, rocky body. Now the spacecraft's instruments are revealing the true complexity of this ancient world.

"We're seeing enormous mountains, valleys, hills, cliffs, troughs, ridges, craters of all sizes, and plains," says Chris Russell, Dawn principal investigator from UCLA. "Vestais not a simple ball of rock. This is a world with a rich geochemical history. It has quite a story to tell!"

Like Earth and other terrestrial planets, Vesta has ancient basaltic lava flows on the surface and a large iron core. It also has tectonic features, troughs, ridges, cliffs, hills and a giant mountain. False colors in this montage represent different rock and mineral types.

In fact, the asteroid is so complex that Russell and members of his team are calling it the "smallest terrestrial planet."

Vesta has an iron core, notes Russell, and its surface features indicate that the asteroid is "differentiated" like the terrestrial planets Earth, Mercury, Mars, and Venus.

Differentiation is what happens when the interior of an active planet gets hot enough to melt, separating its materials into layers. The light material floats to the top while the heavy elements, such as iron and nickel, sink to the center of the planet.

Researchers believe this process also happened to Vesta.

The story begins about 4.57 billion years ago, when the planets of the Solar System started forming from the primordial solar nebula. As Jupiter gathered itself together, its powerful gravity stirred up the material in the asteroid belt so objects there could no longer coalesce. Vesta was in the process of growing into a full-fledged planet when Jupiter interrupted the process.

Like Earth and other terrestrial planets, Vesta is differentiated into layers.

Although Vesta’s growth was stunted, it is still differentiated like a true planet.

"We believe that the Solar System received an extra slug of radioactive aluminum and iron from a nearby supernova explosion at the time Vesta was forming," explains Russell.

?deis ex machina?  The ejecta model sends out a molten body of material that will obviously differentiate as it also cools down.  Please note that the surface temperature of the rock on Venus is still close to the temperature at which it is molten as may be expected from a recent ejection event.  This needs to be counteracted with a cometary bombardment that delivers methane and water and accelerates the cooling and recycling of the near crust.

It is my conjecture that once Earth is fully terraformed, our next task will be the terraforming of Venus ultimately providing Earth with a back up.

"These materials decay and give off heat. As the asteroid was gathering material up into a big ball of rock, it was also trapping the heat inside itself."

As Vesta’s core melted, lighter materials rose to the surface, forming volcanoes and mountains and lava flows.

"We think Vesta had volcanoes and flowing lava at one time, although we've not yet found any ancient volcanoes there," says Russell. "We're still looking. Vesta's plains seem similar to Hawaii's surface, which is basaltic lava solidified after flowing onto the surface.

Vesta has so much in common with the terrestrial planets, should it be formally reclassified from "asteroid" to "dwarf planet"?

"That's up to the International Astronomical Union, but at least on the inside, Vesta is doing all the things a planet does."

If anyone asks Russell, he knows how he would vote.




New NASA Dawn Visuals Show Vesta's 'Color Palette'

Image Advisory: 2011-375      
   
This image using color data obtained by the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows Vesta's southern hemisphere in color, centered on the Rheasilvia formation.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA 


December 5, 2011 - PASADENA, Calif. -- Vesta appears in a splendid rainbow-colored palette in new images obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The colors, assigned by scientists to show different rock or mineral types, reveal Vesta to be a world of many varied, well-separated layers and ingredients. Vesta is unique among asteroids visited by spacecraft to date in having such wide variation, supporting the notion that it is transitional between the terrestrial planets -- like Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus -- and its asteroid siblings.

In images from Dawn's framing camera, the colors reveal differences in the rock composition associated with material ejected by impacts and geologic processes, such as slumping, that have modified the asteroid's surface. Images from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer reveal that the surface materials contain the iron-bearing mineral pyroxene and are a mixture of rapidly cooled surface rocks and a deeper layer that cooled more slowly. The relative amounts of the different materials mimic the topographic variations derived from stereo camera images, indicating a layered structure that has been excavated by impacts. The rugged surface of Vesta is prone to slumping of debris on steep slopes.

Dawn scientists presented the new images at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Monday, Dec. 5. The panelists included Vishnu Reddy, framing camera team associate, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany; Eleonora Ammannito, visible and infrared spectrometer team associate, Italian Space Agency, Rome; and David Williams, Dawn participating scientist, Arizona State University, Tucson.

"Vesta's iron core makes it special and more like terrestrial planets than a garden-variety asteroid," said Carol Raymond, Dawn's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The distinct compositional variation and layering that we see at Vesta appear to derive from internal melting of the body shortly after formation, which separated Vesta into crust, mantle and core." The presentation also included a new movie, created by David O'Brien of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz., that takes viewers on a spin around a hill on Vesta that appears to be made of a distinctly darker material than the rest of the crust.

Dawn launched in September 2007 and arrived at Vesta on July 15, 2011. Following a year at Vesta, the spacecraft will depart in July 2012 for the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will arrive in 2015.

Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

More information about the Dawn mission is online at: http://www.nasa.gov/dawn.

To follow the mission on Twitter, visit: http://www.twitter.com/NASA_Dawn.

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