An Asteroid -- Or a Minor Planet
SPACE.com Download time: Apr 23 2011 8:22 AM ET
Scientists still aren't sure what to make of Vesta, a small body that orbits the sun. Is it an asteroid or a planet?
NASA's Dawn spacecraft could settle the matter.
Vesta was spotted 200 years ago and is officially a "minor planet" — a body that orbits the sun but is not a proper planet or comet. Yet, many astronomers call Vesta an asteroid because it lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
But Vesta is not a typical member of that orbiting rubble patch. The vast majority of objects in the main belt are relative lightweights, 62 miles(100 kilometers) wide or smaller, compared with Vesta, which is 329 miles(530 km) wide.
If Vesta is an asteroid, it would be the second-largest in the solar system. Some scientists, however, are skeptical about that designation.…
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