Genesis (Solar Wind Sample Return)

Genesis (Solar Wind Sample Return)

Courtesy of NASA

Genesis was designed to collect uncontaminated samples of solar wind and return canisters containing those samples to Earth for analysis. Based on the idea that solar wind is a time capsule of particles containing dust and gases ejected from the outer surface of the Sun, and that those particles have not changed in the more than 4 billion years since the solar system originated, it was hoped that the collected solar wind samples would help answer the question, how did the Sun’s family of planets (our solar system) originate? In addition, getting information about the original state of the solar system would help scientists uncover the processes that have changed our solar system to its present state.

The Genesis mission was designed to ensure uncontaminated samples of concentrated particles. After recovering the capsules containing the samples at a site in the Utah desert, the canisters would be opened in a clean room before careful analysis. Unfortunately, the parachutes failed and the capsules crash-landed, while traveling more than 200 miles per hour. Some samples were contaminated, but some were still usable.

August 8, 2001

November 16, 2001 (halo orbit at L1, a place where Sun and Earth gravities are balanced, and a pristine sample of solar wind could be collected)

End of Mission
September 8, 2004 (sample capsule returned to Earth; spacecraft is still in orbit around Sun)

Collect samples of solar wind particles and return them to Earth for detailed analysis. Precisely measure the abundance of solar isotopes and elements, and provide a source of solar matter for future scientific analysis. Precisely measure ratios of oxygen, nitrogen, and noble gases in the different phases of solar activity.

Despite the canisters’ crash-landing, the team has identified ions of solar origin. Genesis was the first sample return mission since the Apollo program and the first to return samples from beyond the Moon. Comparisons were made between solar wind samples from Genesis and solar wind studies based on Moon rock samples.

Despite contamination from the crash, scientists hope to obtain useful data.