Flying into an asteroid field is pretty impractical for most of us, even if you’re trying to escape an Imperial Star Destroyer. But for those who relish exploring giant space rocks, NASA’s provided the next best thing: a virtual tour of Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in the solar system.
Much like Google Earth (or Google Mars or Google Moon), NASA’s Vesta Trek lets you explore a 2D or 3D recreation of the celestial body, down to specific features on its surface. The imagery was collected by the DAWN spacecraft back in 2011, and beyond simply providing a picture of the asteroid, you can also overlay a variety of other information, including iron levels, geology, and even a true color image. There are also views from the north or the south pole of the asteroid.
Click on any feature and you get the latitude and longitude of its location, the origin of its name, and other pertinent details. A built-in search lets you look for a particular location or surface feature, and you can also draw lines to calculate distance and elevation as well as place pins that let you calculate the angle of the sun.
But perhaps the best part is switching out to the 3D view, where you can spin Vesta like a giant potato, zooming in and out on features like the massive crater Pomponia. Clicking on the game controller icon in 3D mode lets you navigate via your keyboard (using the WASD or arrow keys to move the image around).
If you have access to a 3D printer, Vesta Trek lets you draw a box around an area on the map and then generate a file that you can use to print a 3-dimensional model of that area. (There are also 3D files to print the entirety of Vesta in two halves.) So if happen to be looking for the perfect gift for the astronomer who seems to have everything, look no further.