NASA on Monday unveiled the first close-up image of the asteroid Vesta, the second-largest body in the main asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter, and the new home of the orbiting Dawn space probe.

Dawn put itself into orbit around Vesta on July 16 for a year-long study of what scientists believe to be one of the oldest objects in the solar system.


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“We believe this goes back to the first 5 million years of when the solar system formed 4.65 billion years ago,” said lead scientist Chris Russell, with the University of California at Los Angeles.

The first images, taken at a distance of about 3,200 miles, revealed several unexpected geologic features including surface grooves and craters lined with streams of black-and-white debris.

“I haven’t seen anything like that before,” Russell told reporters. “This is not a uniform body; different things were happening at different regions of the surface. That indicates to me that the interior was very active.”

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More information will come as Dawn shifts its orbit and soars closer to Vesta. After a year, the ion-powered probe will spiral away from Vesta to visit the king of the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Image: Vesta unveiled on July 24. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA