NASA has released a browser-based application that allows citizen scientists to explore the surface of the asteroid Vesta. The 3D model was created from data harvested by the agency's Dawn spacecraft over the course of its year-long stay in orbit around the asteroid between July 2011 and September 2012. The application allows users a rare opportunity to make detailed observations of one of the lesser-known bodies in our solar system in an engaging, easy-to-use format.

The surprisingly in-depth option bar features a quick-start tutorial, allowing you to interact with and observe the surface of Vesta above and beyond the capabilities afforded by a standard interactive map. The app can be viewed either in 2D, with viewing options including global, north pole, or south pole, or via a 3D representation of the asteroid.

The "My Data" tab allows you to select a number of overlays such as mineral ratio, geology, and for the more scientifically minded, high-energy gamma-ray count rate, all of which come with an easy-to-understand color legend.

Artist's impression of Dawn orbiting Vesta (Image: NASA)

The "Line" tools allows you to drop a line onto the surface of the asteroid and manipulate it to your liking, after which the application will display data regarding the distance between the beginning and end of your chosen path, as well as the elevation covered covered along the way. The function allows for a sense of perspective as you soak in the awesome detail of the cratered alien landscape.

"There's nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, but these types of detailed data-visualizations are the next best thing," states Kristen Erickson, Director, Science Engagement and Partnerships at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We're thrilled to release Vesta Trek to the citizen science community and the public, not only as a scientific tool, but as a portal to an immersive experience that, just by the nature of it, will allow a deeper understanding of Vesta and asteroids in general."

Finally, for those of you out there lucky enough to have access to a 3D printer, the application allows you to download and print your own model of Vesta, or a topographically accurate section of terrain of your choosing, because frankly who wouldn't want that on the mantelpiece?

Those hoping to explore the desolate beauty of Vesta's landscape for themselves can find a link to the application via the project website.

Source: NASA

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