Vesta

Vesta

[ves-tuh]
Vesta, in astronomy, fourth asteroid to be discovered. It was found in 1807 by H. Olbers. It is the third largest asteroid, with a diameter of c.326 mi (525 km). Its average distance from the sun is 2.36 astronomical units, and the period of its orbit is 1,325 days. Vesta is the only asteroid that can be seen with the naked eye; it can be seen only when it is in the right position in the sky relative to the earth and sun, namely, when it is at opposition and perihelion simultaneously.

Vesta is geologically different from the other large asteroids. Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show a basaltic surface indicative of ancient lava flows originating from a molten interior and a giant crater, about 285 mi (460 km) across and 8 mi (13 km) deep, that may go all the way through the crust to expose the mantle. The crater is thought to have resulted from a collision with another celestial body, the impact tearing out large chunks of Vesta that formed a distinctive class of small asteroids, some of which have reached earth as meteorites. Alternatively, they all may have originated from the breakup of a large parent body early in the history of the solar system. These hypotheses were made more credible in 1999 when the space probe Deep Space 1 spectroscopically analyzed the small asteroid Braille and found it to be akin in composition to Vesta.

Vesta, in Roman religion and mythology, hearth goddess. She was highly honored in every household from early times to the beginning of Christianity. Her public cult maintained a sacred building in which her priestesses, the vestal virgins, tended the communal hearth and fire, which was never allowed to die out. Vesta was identified with the Greek Hestia.

Vesta (seated on the left) with Vestal Virgins, classical relief sculpture; in the Palermo Museum, elipsis

In Roman religion, the goddess of the hearth, identified with the Greek Hestia. Because maintaining a hearth fire was important in ancient times, she was worshiped in every household. Her state worship was elaborate: her temple in Rome had a perpetual fire that was attended by the Vestal Virgins. The fire was officially extinguished and renewed annually on March 1st; its extinction at any other time was viewed as a portent of disaster to Rome.

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  • Vespa motor scooters, manufactured since 1946 in Italy

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