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New data suggests that when a large impact hit Vesta’s Rheasilvia basin sometime in the past, the entire asteroid was shaken up, producing ripples that eventually surfaced as the giant grooves that circle the asteroid’s equator.
“Vesta got hammered,” said Peter Schultz, professor of earth, environmental, and planetary sciences at Brown and the paper’s senior author. “The whole interior was reverberating, and what we see on the surface is the manifestation of what happened in the interior.”
The research suggests that the Rheasilvia basin on Vesta’s south pole was created by an impactor that came in at an angle, rather than straight on. But that glancing blow still did an almost unimaginable amount of damage. The study shows that just seconds after the collision, rocks deep inside the asteroid began to crack and crumble under the stress. Within two minutes major faults reached near the surface, forming deep the canyons seen today near Vesta’s equator, far from the impact point.
Essentially, for a very very short period of time, immediately after the impact, the solid material of the asteroid acted more like a liquid, producing ripples that immediately settled down as the solid deep equatorial grooves we see today.