Optical space weathering on Vesta: Radiative-transfer models and Dawn observations

David T. Blewett, Brett W. Denevi, Lucille Le Corre, Vishnu Reddy, Stefan E. Schröder, Carle M. Pieters, Federico Tosi, Francesca Zambon, Maria Cristina De Sanctis, Eleonora Ammannito, Thomas Roatsch, Carol A. Raymond, Christopher T. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Exposure to ion and micrometeoroid bombardment in the space environment causes physical and chemical changes in the surface of an airless planetary body. These changes, called space weathering, can strongly influence a surface's optical characteristics, and hence complicate interpretation of composition from reflectance spectroscopy. Prior work using data from the Dawn spacecraft (Pieters, C.M. et al. [2012]. Nature 491, 79-82) found that accumulation of nanophase metallic iron (npFe0), which is a key space-weathering product on the Moon, does not appear to be important on Vesta, and instead regolith evolution is dominated by mixing with carbonaceous chondrite (CC) material delivered by impacts. In order to gain further insight into the nature of space weathering on Vesta, we constructed model reflectance spectra using Hapke's radiative-transfer theory and used them as an aid to understanding multispectral observations obtained by Dawn's Framing Cameras (FC). The model spectra, for a howardite mineral assemblage, include both the effects of npFe0 and that of a mixed CC component. We found that a plot of the 438-nm/555-nm ratio vs. the 555-nm reflectance for the model spectra helps to separate the effects of lunar-style space weathering (LSSW) from those of CC-mixing. We then constructed ratio-reflectance pixel scatterplots using FC images for four areas of contrasting composition: a eucritic area at Vibidia crater, a diogenitic area near Antonia crater, olivine-bearing material within Bellicia crater, and a light mantle unit (referred to as an "orange patch" in some previous studies, based on steep spectral slope in the visible) northeast of Oppia crater. In these four cases the observed spectral trends are those expected from CC-mixing, with no evidence for weathering dominated by production of npFe0. In order to survey a wider range of surfaces, we also defined a spectral parameter that is a function of the change in 438-nm/555-nm ratio and the 555-nm reflectance between fresh and mature surfaces, permitting the spectral change to be classified as LSSW-like or CC-mixing-like. When applied to 21 fresh and mature FC spectral pairs, it was found that none have changes consistent with LSSW. We discuss Vesta's lack of LSSW in relation to the possible agents of space weathering, the effects of physical and compositional differences among asteroid surfaces, and the possible role of magnetic shielding from the solar wind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-174
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroid Vesta
  • Asteroids, composition
  • Asteroids, surfaces
  • Geological processes
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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