|Semi-major axis||2,3619 AU|
|Perihelion||2,1526 AU … 9°|
|Aphelion||2,5712 AU … 9°|
|Orbital period||3 a 230 d|
|Diameter||573 × 557 × 446 km|
|Density||3,456 ± 0.035 g/ cm³|
|Rotational period||5,342 h|
Vesta is a minor planet or asteroid which orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It has a mean diameter of 525 kilometres (326 mi) and an average distance from the Sun of 353.4 million km.
Its sidereal orbital period is 3.63 years.
Vesta was discovered on the 29th March 1807, shortly after 8 pm by H.W. Olbers in Bremen.
It is the second largest asteroid within the asteroid belt - slightly larger than Pallas, though about 25% more massive. Its density is lower than that of the four terrestrial planets, but higher than that of all the moons in the Solar System (except Io).
It has more complex geology than other asteroids. That's why some scientists refer to Vesta as the last remaining rocky protoplanet (with a differentiated interior) of the kind that formed the terrestrial planets. It is thought to consist of a metallic iron–nickel core 214–226 km in diameter, an overlying rocky olivine mantle, with a surface crust.
Visibility: Its size and unusually bright surface make Vesta the brightest asteroid, and it is occasionally even visible to the naked eye from dark skies (without light pollution).
In 2007 the American space agency NASA launched the spacecraft Dawn as the first space mission to Vesta.
History and Mythology
The asteroid takes its name from the Roman goddess Vesta (Greek: Hestia). Apollo, Poseidon and others tried to gain her affection but she decided to live a life of chastity. She was the most modest of Rhea's and Saturn's children and became the goddess of hearth and home. Although Hestia/Vesta is hardly mentioned in Greek mythology, her personification of flame and the hearth, as the foundation of cooking, heating, and home-based rituals, as well as sacred temple flames, made her a very important goddess and one of the twelve Olympians.
"To Cronus and Rhea, we are told, were born Hestia, Demeter, and Hera, and Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Of these, they say, Hestia discovered how to build houses, and because of this benefaction of hers practically all men have established her shrine in every home, according her honours and sacrifices." (Diodorus Siculus V.68:1)
The Romans made Vesta the tutelary goddess of the state. A cult was established, and temples devoted to her were guarded by the Vestalas, the virgin priestesses of Vesta. They had the task of guarding Vesta's eternal burning fire within the temples. It was a great privilege but also a great challenge to be ordained as one of the Vestal virgins. Only girls between the ages of six and ten with no physical afflictions were eligible. Their parents had to be of free origin and still alive; the period of service was 30 years. The worst crime they could commit was to break their vow of chastity which could be punished by flagellation or being buried alive.
The asteroid specialist Demetra George argues that: "Originally, sexual rituals which honoured the fertility and procreational powers of the lunar goddess were an integral part of the Vesta myth because they secured sovereignty with divine blessing. It is for this reason that Vesta was worshiped as the ideal embodiment of motherhood. However, with the rise of patriarchy this aspect of Vesta was driven into obscurity and she became transformed into the goddess of purity and sexual chastity."
The Greeks and Romans did not notably interpret Vesta as a lunar or maternal goddess: she was more understood as the goddess of the life-giving home fires than of either chastity or sexuality. According to the Latin author Ovid (Fasti), Vesta was tended by virgins due to the shared association with purity.
Vesta in horoscope interpretation is still an open subject for further research.
One interpretation, linked to the symbolism of the vestal virgins, is that Vesta stands for service in the name of a higher cause which promises a great degree of independence if an individual is completely devoted. Although Vesta must submit to laws in the general public interest and bears great responsibility, she is able to recognise freedom within these boundaries. For this reason, Vesta has a close relationship with nature and natural laws and some astrologers see a connection between Vesta and modern ecological awareness which tries to respect the laws of nature and knows that respecting these means living in true freedom.
In the natal chart, Vesta's position shows where it is wise to search for our uniqueness not by fulfilling personal desires, but by their apparent renouncement in the name of a greater cause which will allow us to experience our individuality on a deeper level. What matters is the inner centre, the inner fire.
Demetra George considers Vesta to highlight "the need to reintegrate spiritual and sexual energies".
To Nick Fiorenza "Vesta is the asteroid of focus, dedication & commitment... [Vesta] is of strength, purity, and perfection—of total dedication to purpose."
One interesting parallel is that the English word focus has as its root the Latin word focus, which actually means "hearth." From this comes the physics concept of a focus as a point of converging light beams. The word focus continues to be used in a variety of ways, both scientifically and metaphorically, that although differing from the original meaning, still carry a sense of focussing or concentration on something of importance. Richard Vetter argues that Vesta can contribute a tremendous intense focus to its natal house and to planets with which it interacts.
Currently there is no unanimity on any sign rulership for Vesta, although it has affinities with several signs.
- Wikipedia: 4 Vesta (Astronomy)
- The Smallest Planet (Video explores Vesta's landscape, history and planet-like characteristics. 3 min)
- Vesta has an iron core, is a potential Dwarf Planet
- Demetra George, 1986, Asteroid Goddesses, ACS Publications
- Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., 1996, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, third ed., Oxford University Press
Notes and References
- Photographed by "Dawn" (2011/ 2013)
- With sizes shown to scale
- According to a message from the observatory of Bremen-Lilienthal to Richard Vetter
- In 1802 Olbers already had discovered Pallas
- In May and June 2007, Vesta reached a peak magnitude of +5.4 (similar to Uranus)
- As seen from the Dawn spacecraft
- Artist's rendition of the spacecraft. Vesta is on the left, and Ceres on the right