NASA released a 3D video of asteroid Vesta this week, showing rifts and valleys across the 330-mile-wide world sandwiched between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Imagery from the framing camera on NASA's Dawn spacecraft was used to assemble the video, which shows Vesta from far away then moves closer to show details of craters and a massive mountain twice the height of Mt. Everest near the asteroid's south pole.
Dawn team member Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) created the video.
"If you want to know what it's like to explore a new world like Vesta, this new video gives everyone a chance to see it for themselves," Jaumann said. "Scientists are poring over these images to learn more about how the craters, hills, grooves and troughs we see were created."
Vesta is seen during Dawn's approach and while the probe was in a global surveying orbit 1,700 miles from the asteroid's surface. Dawn is now spiraling closer to Vesta to reach an orbit 130 miles from the asteroid.
"Dawn's data thus far have revealed the rugged topography and complex textures of the surface of Vesta, as can be seen in this video," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Soon, we'll add other pieces of the puzzle such as the chemical composition, interior structure, and geologic age to be able to write the history of this remnant protoplanet and its place in the early solar system."
Dawn entered orbit at Vesta in July to study the asteroid's make-up, surface features and gravity field. Vesta is the second-most massive object in the main asteroid felt.
The spacecraft will depart Vesta in July 2012 and use ion engines to power its way to Ceres, an icy dwarf planet and the largest asteroid in the solar system.
Vesta and Ceres were both unexplored before Dawn's mission. Scientists believe the asteroids are protoplanets, or remnant building blocks from the formation of the planets.