Author's Archive: Thomas Roatsch

Thomas Roatsch
Thomas Roatsch
Dr. Thomas Roatsch is a planetary physicist from the Institute of Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin. He lead the development of global maps of Vesta gathered by the framing camera in both its high and low mapping orbits for NASA’s Dawn mission, and has been instrumental in the development of global maps of some of the moons of Saturn for NASA’s Cassini mission as well.


25 Feb

Virtual Tour of Vesta

by Thomas Roatsch

The International Astronomical Union recently approved a new set of feature names for giant asteroid Vesta: Albia, Africana and Alypia Craters, to name a few. Among the features are dorsa (ridges), fossae (long, narrow shallow depressions), a rupes (scarp or cliff), and craters from Vesta’s mysterious north polar region. This compels us to take another close look at Vesta’s marvelous atlas.

An atlas of the asteroid Vesta, created from images taken during the Dawn mission’s low altitude mapping orbit (LAMO), is accessible for the public to explore online.  The set of maps was created from mosaics of 10,000 images from Dawn’s framing camera (FC) instrument, taken at an altitude of about 210 kilometers.  The maps are mostly at a scale of 1:200 0000 (1 centimeter = 2 kilometers), about that of regional road maps.

 Vesta's Low Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO) Atlas is at the scale of regional road maps: 1cm = 2 km (1 in = 3 mi).

Vesta’s Low Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO) Atlas is at the scale of regional road maps: 1 cm = 2 km (1 in = 3 mi)

Creating the atlas was a painstaking task – each map sheet of this series used roughly 400 images. The atlas shows how extreme the terrain is on a body the size of Vesta.  In the south pole projection alone, the Severina crater contours reach a depth of 18 kilometers; just over a hundred kilometers away the mountain peak towers 7 kilometers above the ellipsoid reference level.

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