Jan 26, 2015 10:18 PM EST
NASA has revealed that new data from the Dawn spacecraft indicates that there may have once been short-lived water flows on the second largest body in the asteroid belt, known to us as Vesta.
Nobody ever expected to find evidence of water on Vesta, as it was believed to be a completely dry world with low surface pressures and freezing temperatures. However, Dawn has found evidence to the contrary, after gathering data about the body between 2011 and 2013.
NASA analyzed data collected with Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, as well as with its neuron detector, and determined that there is a presence of hydrated material within certain areas of Vesta's surface indicating that the surface was, at least at one time, not as dry as we once believed.
According to said Jennifer Scully, postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, the new data indicates that Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body.
NASA's Dawn probe has since left Vesta, moving on to explore other bodies in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. This region of rocky bodies is considered to be the dividing line between the inner, terrestrial planets and the gas giants in our solar system.
Vesta was believed to simply be an asteroid before Dawn arrived. However, after the initial data was sent back by Dawn, scientists concluded that it was not, in fact, an asteroid, but rather a protoplanet left over from the early beginnings of our solar system that has since been battered and broken.
Vesta has a diameter of 330 miles and could have formed into a planet if not for the formation of its closest neighbor Jupiter, according to scientists. When Jupiter formed, it generated intense gravity that disturbed the orbits of the bodies located within the asteroid belt. This caused them to smash into each other, forming the belt that we know today, and halting the formation of any other planets.
Evidence for this theory can be seen simply by examining the surface of Vesta. The surface of Vesta is littered with multiple crater impacts, indicating that it took quite a beating from neighboring bodies and other asteroids.
Scientists continue to examine the data, looking for more clues that water existed, and thanks to experiments conducted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory they believe that water could have existed for a long enough period of time to form curved gullies on the surface before all the water evaporated.
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