London: The giant asteroid Vesta has many features that are mostly associated with rocky planets like Earth, a new study has revealed.
Vesta has been considered as a massive asteroid, but after studying the surface in detail, scientists are describing it as “transitional”.
Since July 2011, the Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Vesta - one of the Solar System’s most primitive objects.
They have recorded several unexpected features on its battered surface.
According to Dawn’s principal investigator, Christopher T Russell, the science team found it hard not to refer to the object as a planet.
He asserted that the rounded asteroid showed evidence of geological processes that characterise rocky worlds like Earth and the Moon.
Vesta is the second most massive of the asteroids, measuring nearly 530km (330mi) in diameter.
It is dominated by a huge crater called Rheasilvia and stands a number of other scars left by the hammering it has received at the hands of other asteroid belt denizens.
One vital transitional feature of Vesta can be found in its topography, or elevation.
Vertical elevation on the Moon or Mars might reach tens of kilometres, but these objects are also extremely large.
“This means the topography is about 1 percent of the radius,” the BBC quoted Dr Ralf Jaumann, from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), as saying.
“If you go to Vesta, it is 15 percent, and if you go to the largest outer asteroid - Lutetia - it is 40 percent.”
In a nutshell, this mathematical relationship between topography and radius (half an object’s diameter) puts Vesta in an intermediate position between small asteroids and rocky planets.
Another characteristic concerns the way its surface has been modified, or “processed”, by the many collisions.
This is apparent in dark material that can be seen in images of its terrain.
The dark material seems to be associated with impacts and their aftermath.
Scientists are certain there has been volcanism on the asteroid during its history. This is because there are hundreds of pieces of Vesta sitting in museums across the world.