Click on the image for the animation
The animation 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 framing camera team members at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
The images incorporate the best data on dimples and bulges of the protoplanet Vesta from ground-based telescopes and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The topography is color-coded by altitude, with red indicating the highest altitude and blue the lowest. The cratering and small-scale surface variations are computer-generated, based on the patterns seen on the Earth's moon, an inner solar system object with a surface appearance that may be similar to Vesta.
Vesta, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, formed very early in the history of the solar system and has one of the oldest surfaces in the system. Scientists are eager to get their first close-up look so they can better understand this early chapter.
Dawn science planners have used images like these to ensure optimal images when Dawn gets into orbit around Vesta in July 2011.
The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. It is a project of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The University of California, Los Angeles, is home of the mission's principal investigator, Christopher Russell, and is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn framing cameras were built by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, in partnership with the DLR German Aerospace Center, Berlin.
For more information about the Dawn mission visit http://www.nasa.gov/dawn and http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.