NASA’s new Vesta Trek app uses data and images collected by the Dawn spacecraft to let users explore the asteroid’s surface. The free app can be downloaded at this link. Interactive maps allow users to investigate surface features and geology. Standard keyboard gaming controls are used to visualize a “flying tour” of the asteroid.
Vesta is the one of the largest asteroids orbiting the sun in the region between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn orbited Vesta for over a year, from July 2011 to September 2012, before heading for Ceres. It is now in orbit at Ceres and will make its closest approach later this month.
Two enormous craters in the south polar region of Vesta, created by asteroid impacts one to two billion years ago, are thought to be the origin of meteorites that have fallen to earth. The equatorial region consists of a series of troughs and peaks. The largest trough resembles the Grand Canyon, and the highest peak is three times the size of Mt. Everest.
Vesta Trek allows users to superimpose data sets on geographical terrain to visualize the north and south polar regions. The app is compatible with 3D printers to produce models of the landscape for further study. Until manned spaceflight to Mars and the asteroids becomes a reality in the next decade or so, Vesta Trek might be one of the best ways of “being there”.
As Kristen Erickson, Director, Science Engagement and Partnerships at NASA said, “There’s nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, but these types of detailed data-visualisations are the next best thing. We’re thrilled to release Vesta Trek to the citizen science community and the public, not only as a scientific tool, but as a portal to an immersive experience that, just by the nature of it, will allow a deeper understanding of Vesta and asteroids in general.”
Vesta Trek was developed by NASA’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project (LMMP). This is the first time LMMP has modeled a world beyond the moon. It will continue to work with the Dawn mission as the exploration of Ceres proceeds.