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Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK


Grabbing a piece of the sun

The sun throws gas off into space

Scientists have just completed the first design of a space mission designed to grab a piece of the sun. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

When it is launched in 2001 the Genesis mission will fly into space and unfurl a series of detectors that will capture some of the solar wind.

The solar wind is a stream of particles the sun throws off into space. Because the sun comprises more than 99% of the mass of our solar system analysing the wind will tell us what most of our universe is made of.

A smaller scale version of the experiment was conducted on the lunar surface during the Apollo moon landings.

[ image: Genesis will capture solar wind]
Genesis will capture solar wind
Our solar system was born out of a vast cloud of gas and dust. To understand this process better scientists want to know exactly what this cloud was made of. To do that they want to capture a piece of the solar wind and bring it back to Earth for analysis.

The Genesis mission will give them solar wind composition at the precision required to test these theories.

It will be a spinning spacecraft positioned in a so-called halo orbit closer to the sun than the earth.

It will be exposed to the solar wind for two years. Samples of the solar wind will be stored into a contamination-tight canister which will be returned to Earth for mid-air recovery in Utah.

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