January 24, 2013 – Vesta (pictured above) Explains a lot about Earth: Vesta, the second largest of the asteroids, is a runt planet. Both Vesta and Ceres (pictured below), the largest asteroid and the Dawn’s next destination, are also heavy enough that gravity has made them round.
The asteroid belt (pictured below) between Mars and Jupiter seems to be the remnants of a planet that never came together, and a closer look at Vesta could reveal much about the planet-building process. Dust coalesced into larger chunks like Vesta, which is 330 miles wide, and these then combined to form the rocky planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
After Vesta formed, the gravity of newly formed Jupiter stopped further growth. The traditional view is that Jupiter’s pull accelerated the Vesta-size asteroids so that they smashed themselves apart instead of gently coming together. Pictured below, the Solar System and planets, with Jupiter (the largest planet) shown between the Asteroid Belt and Saturn.
While Vesta is all dense rock and metal, Ceres appears to contain large amounts of ice. That could help solve another open question of the solar system: Where did Earth’s water come from?
The relative sizes of Ceres, and other dwarf planets, is shown above.
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The Master of Disaster