Nasa astronomers have found that the giant asteroid Vesta contains minerals. They made the discovery with the help of the space agency's Dawn spacecraft which deployed an infrared mapping spectrometer to detect the minerals.

The images taken from 420 miles and 130 miles above the surface of the asteroid, clearly show a variety of surface mineral and rock patterns. Coded false-colour images helped them understand better about the composition of Vesta and it enabled them to identify various materials that were once molten below the asteroid's surface.

Astronomers also discovered breccias, rocks that contain bits and pieces of minerals, that were cemented together during impact from space debris. They found minerals like iron and magnesium, which often are found in the earth's volcanic rocks. Images also reveal smooth pond-like deposits, which might have formed as fine dust created during impact that settled into low regions.

"Dawn now enables us to study the variety of rock mixtures making up Vesta's surface in great detail," said Harald Hiesinger, a Dawn participating scientist at Münster University in Germany, in a statement. "The images suggest an amazing variety of processes that paint Vesta's surface."

The data received from the Dawn spacecraft also reveals huge amounts of minerals on the Tarpeia crater's steep slopes near the south pole of the asteroid. They believe that these minerals could have come from other space rocks that had collided with the asteroid.

Astronomers believe that the data collected from the Dawn will help them know more about the early solar system.

"After more than nine months at Vesta, Dawn's suite of instruments has enabled us to peel back the layers of mystery that have surrounded this giant asteroid since humankind first saw it as just a bright spot in the night sky," said Carol Raymond, Dawn deputy principal investigator at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. "We are closing in on the giant asteroid's secrets."

This set of images from NASA's Dawn mission shows topography of the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta and a map of Vesta's gravity variations that have been adjusted to account for Vesta's shape.Nasa
These images of Tarpeia crater, near the south pole of the giant asteroid Vesta, were obtained by the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Colorized versions of the images show younger material with abundant pyroxene (an iron- and magnesium-rich material) and older layers with less pyroxene.Nasa
These composite images from the framing camera aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft show three views of a terrain with ridges and grooves near Aquilia crater in the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta.Nasa
This colorized image from NASA’s Dawn mission shows temperature variations at Tarpeia crater, near the south pole of the giant asteroid Vesta. It was obtained by the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.Nasa