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Cool eyes Stuff About Genesis

Indian sculpture and studentAcross the centuries, young people have looked to the skies and asked, "What happens when... we catch a piece of the sun?" Let's begin at the beginning of the mission--and it all started with someone just like you!  
Where does a NASA mission begin Where does a NASA mission begin?  
NASA's Genesis mission began years ago in the mind of a young boy, named Don Burnett, who looked to the sky and asked, "What happens when we catch a piece of the sun? Does it have clues to the solar system? Can it tell us about the formation of the planets? I wonder." This young boy is now the head scientist in the Genesis mission. He is called the principal investigator. He continues to ask the questions that NASA hopes will be answered by studying solar wind. A child with a question can become the reason a NASA mission exists.  
Baseball bat and ballWhat does the sun have in common with American baseball?  
cartoon curveballDid you know that the sun pitches pieces of itself into the atmosphere around it? These pieces are called solar wind. They form the basis for the science around NASA's Genesis mission. Studying pieces of solar wind will help scientists determine what the sun is actually made of. We can hope to learn what chemical reactions happen when stars and planets form.  
What have we learned about the sun What have we learned about the sun in the last 200 years?  
200 years ago, some scientists thought that the sun was a cooling ball of hot iron. Others thought it was a gigantic globe of burning coal. Once we gained an understanding of gravity, some scientists then thought that meteors were falling into the sun, giving it fuel to burn.  
how the sun is fueledAn Irish gentleman named Lord Kelvin even proposed that the sun was kept hot by devouring whole planets and releasing their energy upon impact. This idea brought more questions about how the sun was fueled.  
Lord KelvinI can predict tide watersocean sunset

Among other things,

Lord Kelvin invented a tide predictor.

Courtesy of The Archives,
California Institute of Technology

Now this is some serious science stuff!
science stuffIn the early 1900s, scientists decided that the Earth and the sun were much older than once thought. At this time, a German physicist named Wilhelm Conrad Rùntgen discovered X-rays. That's when things really got cooking. Scientists figured out that atoms of one type of element could be transformed into atoms of a different element. Could a nuclear reaction be the power source of the sun? In 1929, George Gamow, an American physicist who came from Russia, suggested that four hydrogen nuclei fused together to form one helium nucleus called hydrogen fusion. Not many details were known about fusion at this point. It was not until the 1950's that scientists were certain that proton-proton fusion was what fueled the sun. Scientists today study the sun in many ways, one in which is by studying the Standard Solar Model.


Sun SpotsDid you know that the sun has spots?

Sunspots are relatively cool areas that appear as dark blemishes on the face of the sun.

I knew that


Albert Einstein

Sun Gas graph
The sun is a huge ball of hot gas. It is glowing brightly because it is so hot. The gas is made of atoms of hydrogen and other chemical elements. The sun is so hot that sometimes pieces are shot out into space. These pieces are single atoms or parts of atoms. All these pieces together make up the solar wind. Solar wind flows out from the sun in all directions.
Genesis spacecraft
This is the Genesis spacecraft folded and fixed inside the nosecone of the rocket. We know that the sun is far away and very hot. NASA scientists want to study what the sun is made of, and there is only one way to do it. They need a sample--actual pieces of the sun. How can they get pieces of the sun back to Earth to study? How about sending a spacecraft to try to scoop up part of the sun and bring it back? Nope. 'Won't work. The temperature of the outside layer of the sun is about a million degrees. It would melt the spacecraft. There must be a safer way. It is a better idea to bring back the small pieces of the sun that are thrown into space. The spacecraft can stay a safe distance from the sun. This is what the Genesis mission does. NASA's Genesis mission launches a folded spacecraft on a rocket, and the spacecraft flies toward the sun. The Genesis spacecraft sunbathes for over two years, trapping tiny pieces of solar wind that hit it. Then it folds itself up again and returns to Earth. Scientists will study the pieces of the sun that are trapped inside the spacecraft.
where is the Genesis spacecraft goingSo exactly where is the Genesis spacecraft going?  
Follow the launchFollowing launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket, the Genesis spacecraft will travel to a point in the solar system called L1. It's a libration point, and these are special points, located throughout the universe, that can be used for low fuel trajectories (paths that require less-than-normal fuel). These points are called libration points. Librate is a verb that means to swing slightly in opposite directions, like the needle on a bathroom scale when it is coming to a rest. An object librates because it is being affected by two opposing forces. Libration points in space are places between two orbiting objects where the gravitational force exerted by the objects on each other is balanced. The Genesis spacecraft will remain at one of these libration points and collect solar wind for two years. As the Earth journeys around the sun, the location of the sun-Earth libration points stays constant with respect to those two solar system objects, but moves from the perspective of a fictional observer hovering over the Milky Way galaxy in a spaceship. An object, natural or man-made, which is at one of the libration points will remain stationary, as observed from Earth, unless acted on by some additional force. A satellite can also be made to orbit one of these points. After its nearly three-year orbit, the spacecraft will return to the Earth.  
The Genesis sample return capsule
The Genesis sample return capsules will return pieces of the sun to Earth. The scientists do
n't want the sun pieces to get mixed up with anything from the Earth, so they don't want the returning samples to touch the Earth. As the capsule parachutes toward the ground, a helicopter grabs the parachute before the samples gets too close to the ground. The helicopter tows the capsule to a very clean storage area. The capsule is unloaded carefully so the pieces of the sun are kept clean.
scientists identify chemicals found in the sun
Scientists will slice off thin pieces of the collector materials. They will do this inside a very clean cabinet. The pieces of the sun will be separated from the other material. Then special tools help the scientists identify the exact chemicals found in the sun.
It will return the collected sample to Earth where the particles will be archived at Johnson Space Center for scientists to study with the most modern analytical tools. The Genesis solar wind samples will be an international curiosity to be studied by cosmologists attempting to understand the origin of planetary diversity.The pieces of the collector materials containing pieces of the sun will be a national treasure. They will be stored in a special clean room for other scientists to study.
Cool Stuff About Genesis
Roping Rainbows
  1. About Genesis

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