Modeling the early evolution of Vesta.

Weisfeiler, M., Turcotte, D. L. and Kellogg, L. H.

Meteoritics & Planetary Science. doi: 10.1111/maps.12836


“The early evolution of the asteroid Vesta has been extensively studied because of the availability of relevant data, especially important new studies of HED meteorites which originated from Vesta and the Dawn mission to Vesta in 2011–2012. These studies have concluded that an early melting episode led to the differentiation of Vesta into crust, mantle, and core. This melting episode is attributed to the decay of 26Al, which has a half-life of 7.17 × 105 yr. This heating produced a global magma ocean. Surface cooling of this magma ocean will produce a solid crust. In this paper, we propose a convective heat-transfer mechanism that effectively cools the asteroid when the degree of melting reaches about 50%. We propose that a cool solid surface crust, which is gravitationally unstable, will founder into the solid–liquid mix beneath and will very effectively transfer heat that prevents further melting of the interior. In this paper, we quantify this process. If Vesta had a very early formation, melting would commence at an age of about 1,30,000 yr, and solidification would occur at an age of about 10 Myr. If Vesta formed with a time delay greater than about 2 Myr, no melting would have occurred. An important result of our model is that the early melting episode is restricted to the first 10 Myr. This result is in good agreement with the radiometric ages of the HED meteorites.”