Asteroid Vesta Home to 'Snowman' Made of Craters

Vesta has snowman craters
A set of three craters, nicknamed "Snowman," are seen in this image of the asteroid Vesta's northern hemisphere. This image was obtained by the framing camera on NASA's Dawn spacecraft on July 24, 2011, from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers). (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

A new photo of the giant asteroid Vesta snapped by a NASA probe reveals what may be one of the space rock's oddest features: three huge craters linked at the rim to form a cosmic snowman, scientists say.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which is now in orbit around Vesta, snapped the picture of a set of three craters in the space rock's northern hemisphere on July 24. Mission scientists nicknamed the craters "Snowman" because of their distinct likeness to the wintery figure. [See Vesta's asteroid snowman and more photos]

The smallest crater looks like the head of the snowman, with the two others making up the body, Holger Sierks, a member of Dawn's framing camera team at the Max Planck Society in Germany, said in a  press conference Monday (Aug. 1).

"They're very interesting to us because they appear to be shallow," he added.

Dawn took the picture from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers). The snowman image is one of several new and detailed photos of Vesta that are being released as the spacecraft begins taking scientific observations of the space rock.

The $466 million Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around Vesta on July 15 to begin a yearlong mission to  closely study the asteroid. Dawn's close observations will help astronomers understand the early days of the solar system, the asteroid belt, as well as the processes that formed and shaped rocky planets like Earth, researchers said.

Vesta, the brightest asteroid in our solar system, is the second-largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The space rock measures about 330 miles (530 kilometers) across.

This story was provided by, sister site to LiveScience. You can follow staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.