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November 2 2012

The Eternal Youth of Asteroid Vesta

Solar system bodies unprotected by even a bit of atmosphere inevitably age—except, apparently, for the asteroid Vesta. Other airless bodies, including the moon, fall prey to blasts of cosmic dust and charged particles in the sun's wind. But viewed from Earth, 550-kilometer-diameter Vesta seemed immune to all that.

This week, researchers analyzing spectral color data returned by the Dawn spacecraft can confirm that Vesta has mysteriously escaped eons of the kind of "space weathering" that has aged the surface of other asteroids. And Dawn's spectral observations are also showing how a well-known "gardening" process on asteroids is smoothing out Vesta's age spots.

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