Asteroid Mappers crowdsources the surface of Vesta

Be a space explorer and create the first map of the oldest asteroid in the Solar System. Asteroid Mappers: Vesta Edition lets you make original contributions to Nasa’s Dawn mission to the asteroid Vesta.

Four billion years ago Vesta was a protoplanet. It had grown large enough to melt its interior and take a spherical shape. It was on its way to becoming a planet when disaster struck. The giant planets shifted in their orbits. Their gravity sent asteroids and comets crashing through the Solar System. Vesta’s position between Mars and Jupiter made it a prime target. The bombardment blasted its crust into space - many of the meteorites on Earth may be the debris from Vesta’s destruction. All that remains is Vesta’s shattered core. Now Vesta is a new kind of target. Vesta may be the only way to study a planetary core directly. On top of that, large pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of Solar System history would fall into place by confirming which meteorites came from Vesta. Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at Vesta in 2011 after a four year voyage. It spent the next fourteen months orbiting the asteroid, analyzing its composition, and returning thousands of images of Vesta’s shattered surface.

Mapping that surface is a job for people, not computers. The craters and ridges are too different and indistinct for a computer algorithm to accurately recognize. Human vision, however, evolved to recognize faint patterns. Rather than assign it to a graduate student, CosmoQuest and the Dawn science team want amateur space explorers to do the job. Asteroid Mappers: Vesta Edition asks you to  review Dawn’s images of Vesta - you might be the first person to see the pictures. By mapping the location and size of the asteroid’s surface features, you will build a catalog that scientists can use for new research:

  • The cracks and ripples created by large collisions lets scientists learn about Vesta’s internal structure.
  • The craters, landslides, and regolith you map lets scientists reconstruct Vesta’s history.
  • The patterns of craters - different from what we see on the Moon - lets scientists understand the environment of the Main Asteroid Belt.

Dawn’s ion engines are so much more efficient than chemical rocket engines that, even after a four year voyage and fourteen months maneuvering through different orbits around Vesta, Dawn had enough propellant to set a course to the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System. Dawn arrives at Ceres in 2015. A new edition of Asteroid Mappers will let amateurs be the first to explore a new world.