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An Ancient Core Dynamo in Asteroid Vesta

Science  12 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6104, pp. 238-241
DOI: 10.1126/science.1225648

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Vesta to the Core

Vesta is one of the largest bodies in the main asteroid belt. Unlike most other asteroids, which are fragments of once larger bodies, Vesta is thought to have survived as a protoplanet since its formation at the beginning of the solar system (see the Perspective by Binzel, published online 20 September). Based on data obtained with the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector aboard the Dawn spacecraft, Prettyman et al. (p. 242, published online 20 September) show that Vesta's reputed volatile-poor regolith contains substantial amounts of hydrogen delivered by carbonaceous chondrite impactors. Observations of pitted terrain on Vesta obtained by Dawn's Framing Camera and analyzed by Denevi et al. (p. 246, published online 20 September), provide evidence for degassing of volatiles and hence the presence of hydrated materials. Finally, paleomagnetic studies by Fu et al. (p. 238) on a meteorite originating from Vesta suggest that magnetic fields existed on the surface of the asteroid 3.7 billion years ago, supporting the past existence of a magnetic core dynamo.

Abstract

The asteroid Vesta is the smallest known planetary body that has experienced large-scale igneous differentiation. However, it has been previously uncertain whether Vesta and similarly sized planetesimals formed advecting metallic cores and dynamo magnetic fields. Here we show that remanent magnetization in the eucrite meteorite Allan Hills A81001 formed during cooling on Vesta 3.69 billion years ago in a surface magnetic field of at least 2 microteslas. This field most likely originated from crustal remanence produced by an earlier dynamo, suggesting that Vesta formed an advecting liquid metallic core. Furthermore, the inferred present-day crustal fields can account for the lack of solar wind ion-generated space weathering effects on Vesta.

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