When scientists examined a photograph of Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt, they were surprised to find what the massive object was made of.
Vesta is composed of many different layers of rock and material. This means that Vesta’s classification is somewhere between that of an asteroid and a planet. It’s one of the most ‘unique’ asteroids a spacecraft has visited, according to NASA.
Shall we call it a plasteroid? Or a planetoid? Maybe Vesta is a dwarf planet?
“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 in a release. “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 discovery was due to NASA’s Dawn Mission, which is now orbiting Vesta at its closest distance yet.
Dawn has been orbiting Vesta since this past July. The spacecraft will leave the giant object in July 2012 for its next adventure: researching the dwarf planet Ceres.
Read more about asteroids here.