by Staff Writers
An initial step to learning about the past of the Solar System lies in the 3D models computed by DLR planetary geologists from the camera images. The third dimension - that is, taking altitude into consideration - is allowing researchers to study the asteroid with greater precision and is causing great surprise among the scientists: "We had not expected such a complex geology.
At present, scientists have,not only determined the asteroid's axis of rotation, but have also defined a prime meridian. This has enabled the establishment of a consistent system of coordinates, whereby Vesta - like Earth - is divided into a network of longitudes and latitudes. The new data acquired by Dawn as it orbits is permanently being incorporated into the existing cartography.
In July 2012, the Dawn spacecraft and its German camera system will continue their journey to a new target, Ceres, which they will reach in February 2015. Whereas Vesta is a 'dry' asteroid whose lighter constituents have been vapourised as a result of its volcanic past and proximity to the Sun, Ceres is the exact opposite. It is thought to have a water content of between 15 and 25 percent and is therefore considered to be a 'wet' asteroid. The camera will again image the surface of the asteroid and create an atlas.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is a division of the California Institute of Technology based in Pasadena, California, manages the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in