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The structure of the asteroid 4 Vesta as revealed by models of planet-scale collisions


Asteroid 4 Vesta seems to be a major intact protoplanet, with a surface composition similar to that of the HED (howardite–eucrite–diogenite) meteorites1,2,3,4. The southern hemisphere is dominated by a giant impact scar5, but previous impact models6,7,8 have failed to reproduce the observed topography. The recent discovery that Vesta’s southern hemisphere is dominated by two overlapping basins9 provides an opportunity to model Vesta’s topography more accurately. Here we report three-dimensional simulations of Vesta’s global evolution under two overlapping planet-scale collisions. We closely reproduce its observed shape, and provide maps of impact excavation and ejecta deposition. Spiral patterns observed in the younger basin Rheasilvia9, about one billion years old10, are attributed to Coriolis forces during crater collapse. Surface materials exposed in the north come from a depth of about 20 kilometres, according to our models, whereas materials exposed inside the southern double-excavation come from depths of about 60–100 kilometres. If Vesta began as a layered, completely differentiated protoplanet, then our model predicts large areas of pure diogenites and olivine-rich rocks. These are not seen11,12,13, possibly implying that the outer 100 kilometres or so of Vesta is composed mainly of a basaltic crust (eucrites) with ultramafic intrusions (diogenites).

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Figure 1: SPH simulation of the formation of the two giant impact features in Vesta’s southern hemisphere.
Figure 2: Velocity field lines in snapshots of the simulation of the Rheasilvia impact.
Figure 3: Initial provenance (km depth) of the ejecta and the exposed material on the surface.
Figure 4: Vesta interior models and the corresponding petrological/mineralogical maps.


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M.J. acknowledges support from the Ambizione programme of the Swiss National Science Foundation. E.A. was supported by NASA’s Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program. J.-A.B. acknowledges support from the Programme National de Planétologie de l’INSU. W.B. acknowledges support from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Author information




M.J. performed and analysed the numerical simulations and led the research. E.A. and W.B. helped to design the numerical study and its scientific formulation. P.G. and J-A. B. provided the Vesta interior models. P.G. and W.B. initiated the collaboration between the four institutions. All authors contributed to interpretation of the results and preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to M. Jutzi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Jutzi, M., Asphaug, E., Gillet, P. et al. The structure of the asteroid 4 Vesta as revealed by models of planet-scale collisions. Nature 494, 207–210 (2013).

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