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NASA's 'Genesis' offers new insights into Sun and planets' evolution

June 24, 2011 - Washington

Samples collected from NASA's Genesis mission have given new insights into the formation of the Sun and its inner planets.

The spacecraft was launched in August 2000 and traveled to the Earth's L1

Lagrange Point about 1 million miles away, where it remained for 886 days between 2001 and 2004, passively collecting solar-wind samples.

Scientists evaluated the data, which revealed that there are slight differences in the types of oxygen and nitrogen present on the sun and the planets.

The air on Earth contains three different kinds of oxygen atoms, which are differentiated by the number of neutrons they contain. Nearly, 100 pc of oxygen atoms in the solar system are composed of O-16, but there also are tiny amounts of more exotic oxygen isotopes called O-17 and O-18.

The researchers also found that the percentage of O-16 in the sun is slightly higher than on Earth, the moon, and meteorites. The other isotopes' percentages were slightly lower.

"The implication is that we did not form out of the same solar nebula materials that created the sun-just how and why remains to be discovered," said Kevin McKeegan, a Genesis co-investigator from the

University of California, Los Angeles.

Furthermore, the researchers found that when compared to Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen in the sun and Jupiter has slightly more N-14, but 40 pc less N-15.

They concluded that both the sun and Jupiter appear to have the same nitrogen composition.

"These findings show that all solar system objects, including the terrestrial planets, meteorites and comets, are anomalous compared to the initial composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed," said Bernard Marty, a Genesis co-investigator from Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques in Nancy, France.


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