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NASA's Genesis gives new clues to how solar system was formed

June 24, 2011 - Washington

NASA's Genesis mission has shed light onto the oxygen and nitrogen isotopic measurements of the Sun, demonstrating that they are very different from the same elements on Earth.

The results have provided new clues to how the solar system was formed.

Oxygen and nitrogen samples collected from various meteorites, as well as nitrogen sampled in lunar soil and in the Jupiter atmosphere by the Galileo probe, vary significantly from that on Earth by cosmochemical standards: 38 percent for nitrogen and up to 7 percent for oxygen. With the first solar wind samples in hand, showing the early Sun's composition, scientists can begin the game of determining where Earth's different O and N came from.

"For nitrogen, Jupiter and the Sun look the same," said Roger Wiens, a Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist and Genesis flight payload lead.

"It tells us that the original gaseous component of the inner and outer solar system was homogeneous for nitrogen, at least. So where did Earth gets its heavier nitrogen from? Maybe it came here in the material comets are made of. Perhaps it was bonded with organic materials," added Wiens.

The study has been detailed in Science.


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