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Surprises in store on Vesta

Between July 2011 and September 2012, NASA's Dawn spacecraft was in orbit around the asteroid Vesta. In this paper, Dawn's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIR) team presents a surprising finding — the signature of olivine on the asteroid's surface. Olivine is a major component of the mantle of differentiated bodies, including Earth. Vesta is a large asteroid, large enough to have differentiated into an Earth-like layered structure and the expectation was that olivine would be found within Vesta's deep, south-pole basins, thought to be excavated mantle rocks. Yet the spectroscopic data reveal olivine-rich material close to the surface in the northern hemisphere. An understanding of the differentiation processes that have occurred on Vesta will be invaluable as a window on the primordial Solar System, but these latest findings show that Vesta's evolutionary history is more complicated than was thought.

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