Elemental Mapping by Dawn Reveals Exogenic H in Vesta’s Regolith

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Science  12 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6104, pp. 242-246
DOI: 10.1126/science.1225354

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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.


Using Dawn’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector, we tested models of Vesta’s evolution based on studies of howardite, eucrite, and diogenite (HED) meteorites. Global Fe/O and Fe/Si ratios are consistent with HED compositions. Neutron measurements confirm that a thick, diogenitic lower crust is exposed in the Rheasilvia basin, which is consistent with global magmatic differentiation. Vesta’s regolith contains substantial amounts of hydrogen. The highest hydrogen concentrations coincide with older, low-albedo regions near the equator, where water ice is unstable. The young, Rheasilvia basin contains the lowest concentrations. These observations are consistent with gradual accumulation of hydrogen by infall of carbonaceous chondrites—observed as clasts in some howardites—and subsequent removal or burial of this material by large impacts.

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