Before voice navigation and cellphones we all kept our car glovebox stuffed with maps of favorite states traveled. Some of us still do. When you needed directions to a city, you unfolded the map or atlas on your lap and followed the vein-like red and blue lines to the your destination.
Now there’s an out-of-this-world virtual atlas that let’s you do the same. If you’re ever in a mood to drive around the asteroid Vesta, you can have at it. NASA has released 29 maps created from 10,000 images shot by Dawn spacecraft’s framing camera from 130 miles (210 kilometers) high. The maps are at a level similar to the state maps you’d pick up at a roadside rest; one inch covers a little more than 3 miles of asteroid (1cm = 2km).
The level of detail is astonishing. Just click on one of the photos, allow a couple minutes to download and then go for a ride with your mouse. Each of the maps was pieced together as a mosaic using 400 images. Three different projections were applied depending on latitude: Mercator for equatorial regions, Lambert conical projections for mid-latitudes and a stereographic projection for the Rheasilvia Basin at Vesta’s south pole.
Because Vesta’s north pole was still in mid-winter darkness during part of the mapping, a small patch there escaped coverage. Otherwise the map is complete.
Vesta, first seen by German astronomer Heinrich Olbers in 1807, was only the 4th object to be discovered in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, hence its formal designation of 4 Vesta. It was named after the goddess of the hearth, home and family in ancient Rome. All the names of geological features on Vesta relate to Roman Vestals (priestesses of Vesta), famous Roman women and cities in which the cult of Vesta is known or festivals in which the Vestals participated.
To see all the maps as well as a helpful series of pdf files identifying features and locations, click HERE. I’ve been enjoying my ramble across Vesta and hope you’ll do the same. The only thing missing are the roads.