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Olivine in an unexpected location on Vesta’s surface


Olivine is a major component of the mantle of differentiated bodies, including Earth. Howardite, eucrite and diogenite (HED) meteorites represent regolith, basaltic-crust, lower-crust and possibly ultramafic-mantle samples of asteroid Vesta, which is the lone surviving, large, differentiated, basaltic rocky protoplanet in the Solar System1. Only a few of these meteorites, the orthopyroxene-rich diogenites, contain olivine, typically with a concentration of less than 25 per cent by volume2. Olivine was tentatively identified on Vesta3,4, on the basis of spectral and colour data, but other observations did not confirm its presence5. Here we report that olivine is indeed present locally on Vesta’s surface but that, unexpectedly, it has not been found within the deep, south-pole basins, which are thought to be excavated mantle rocks6,7,8. Instead, it occurs as near-surface materials in the northern hemisphere. Unlike the meteorites, the olivine-rich (more than 50 per cent by volume) material is not associated with diogenite but seems to be mixed with howardite, the most common7,9 surface material. Olivine is exposed in crater walls and in ejecta scattered diffusely over a broad area. The size of the olivine exposures and the absence of associated diogenite favour a mantle source, but the exposures are located far from the deep impact basins. The amount and distribution of observed olivine-rich material suggest a complex evolutionary history for Vesta.

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Figure 1: HED meteorite distribution map.
Figure 2: Olivine-rich region in the visible and near-infrared wavelengths.
Figure 3: Spectral characteristics of the olivine-rich areas.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Dawn Instrument, Operations and Science teams, and, in particular, the Dawn Framing Camera team. This work was supported by Italian Space Agency grant I/004/12/0 and by NASA through the Dawn mission and the Dawn at Vesta Participating Scientists Program.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.C.D.S., E.A., E.P. and A.L. contributed to the data analysis. M.C.D.S., E.A., S.M., D.W.M., H.Y.M. and C.M.P. contributed to the data interpretation and to writing and improving the manuscript. E.A. and M.C.D.S. provided calibrated VIR data. F.T. provided geometric data. F.Z. and A.F. provided the projected and mosaicked VIR data. All authors contributed to discussion of the results.

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Correspondence to E. Ammannito or M. C. De Sanctis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

All Dawn data are available at PDS: Small Bodies Node (, and VIR data are also available at the ASI Data Center (

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Ternary diagram of orthopyroxene, olivine and clinopyroxene in diogenites.

Proportions of orthopyroxene, olivine and clinopyroxene in diogenites normalized to 100%, with fields for orthopyroxenitic (red), harzburgitic (green) and dunitic diogenites (yellow). Data taken from Extended Data Table 1.

Extended Data Figure 2 Distribution of the band centres for the HED meteorites.

The difference in spectral properties of diogenites, howardites and eucrites can be quantified using a scatter plot of the BI-centre position versus the BII-centre position. We used spectra in the RELAB database to define the different HED meteorite spectral areas9. The HED meteorite distribution map has been derived as explained in refs 6, 8, 9. In this diagram, diogenites and eucrites populate distinct areas because both the BI-centre position and the BII-centre position are sensitive to the pyroxene compositions. Howardites, which are physical mixtures of diogenite and eucrite, plot between, and partly overlap, these fields. By associating a colour indication of composition with every region in the scatter plot (red for diogenite, green for howardite and purple for eucrite, with overlapping fields of yellow for diogenite–howardite and cyan for eucrite–howardite), we constructed the correspondence map in Fig. 1 using the same colour scheme.

Source data

Extended Data Table 1 Average modal mineralogy of diogenites (vol%)

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Ammannito, E., De Sanctis, M., Palomba, E. et al. Olivine in an unexpected location on Vesta’s surface. Nature 504, 122–125 (2013).

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