Deirdre Kelleghan September / October 2004 Arcturus
“ Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only then will he fully understand the world in which he lives”
Socrates, 469 – 399 BC
NASA has a series of ‘Discovery’ probes, they are unmanned and designed to explore our solar system. Genesis, built at a cost of 200 million dollars, is one of these probes.
Inexpensive by NASA standards, the mission of Genesis is to capture retrieve and bring back particles of the solar wind to help explain the origins of our solar system. The solar wind is made up of parts of the solar corona rushing into interplanetary space at supersonic speed.
Images Courtesy NASA/JPL- Caltech
The solar wind, blown continuously by the sun passes the Earth at an average speed of 400 kilometers per second and eventually blends with the interstellar medium
beyond the edge of the Solar System.
During its passage it sweeps up evaporated gases from Planets and Comets along with fine particles of meteoritic dust and even cosmic rays of galactic origin. The influence of the solar wind is felt throughout interplanetary space and it provokes in the Earths atmosphere
In November 2003, when I visited
The space probe Genesis was launched on August 8 2001 from the
where gravity from the Earth and Sun are precisely balanced. This point is called the ‘L1 Lagrange Point’ and is clear of the Earth’s magnetosphere. In November 2001 Genesis went into orbit around the L1 point, and not around any object.
The solar wind streams off the Sun in all directions at speeds of 400 km/s (almost 1 million miles per hour). The source of the solar wind is the Sun's hot
being so high that the
Sun's gravity cannot hold on to it.
The solar wind generated by our nearest star is quite different from the Earth’s surface.
Wind on Earth is created by differences in atmospheric pressures. This ‘wind’ carries about one million tons of hot
Plasma away from the Sun every second – this plasma consists of electrically charged particles with temperatures reaching 100,000 Kelvin’s
While in orbit, the Genesis space probe was bathed by the solar wind that is hurled out from the Sun. These solar wind particles are similar to material from which the planets are formed and include atoms, ions, and high-energy particles.
Once it was in position, the Genesis space probe uncovered its collectors. Particles of solar wind were embedded in the collector arrays, wafer’s made of ultra-pure silicon gold, sapphire and diamond in purest form. The samples of solar wind will be inside a capsule designed to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere safely. After 884 days collecting solar samples the Sample Return Capsule is re-stowed. The space probe then sets out to return to Earth, just a few hours before re-entry the Sample Return Capsule will be separated from the space probe. This is where the mission takes on a
On September 8th 2004, an exciting mid-air recovery of the Sample Return Capsule will take place over the
The Genesis space probe itself will head into orbit around the Sun to further investigate this phenomenal star.
The sample particles of the solar wind that Genesis brings back will help scientists to understand the composition of the Sun and the origins of our Solar system.