The Dawn mission is equipped with cameras built and operated by the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, or the German Aerospace Company), which are working overtime to collect as much data about Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the Solar System. They have recently completed processing the footage received so far to build a shape map of the asteroid, which is a crucial tool to understand the morphology of Vesta.
Vesta has a very complex shape – more lumpy than round. It has hills, grooves, craters, high regions and canyons. The terrain is so extreme that two images of the same region taken from different angles are often not recognisable as being the same place. If scientists are to work out what caused such unusual formations, they first need a clear view of what they look like and this is where the shape map comes in.
To demonstrate the usefulness of the shape map, they used it to produce this video, and the Dawn mission team have released it to the public. I’ll spare you all the details as to the various mysteries behind the asteroid’s shape, as the narrator explains them far more eloquently than I could.