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Researchers interested in meteorites and planetary materials would, ideally, like to have a sample of our original solar nebula to use as a baseline from which to track changes as the Sun and the planets were formed.

Center Research Professor Amy Jurewicz is working on samples from NASA's Genesis sample return mission, which was designed to give us just such a baseline composition by collecting samples of solar wind for two years, prior to a hard landing in Utah.

In 2004, Genesis team members could only look on as the spacecraft's parachutes failed to deploy, and the delicate solar wind collectors hurtled toward the Utah desert at over 300 km/hr.

A flying saucer from outer space crash-landed in the Utah desert after being tracked by radar and chased by helicopters. The year was 2004, and no space aliens were involved. The saucer, pictured here, was the Genesis sample return capsule, part of a human-made robot Genesis spaceship launched in 2001 by NASA itself to study the Sun.

The unexpectedly hard landing at over 300 kilometers per hour occurred because the parachutes did not open as planned. The Genesis mission had been orbiting the Sun collecting solar wind particles that are usually deflected away by Earth's magnetic field.

Despite the crash landing, many return samples remained in good enough condition to analyze. So far, Genesis-related discoveries include new details about the composition of the Sun and how the abundance of some types of elements differ across the Solar System. These results have provided intriguing clues into details of how the Sun and planets formed billions of years ago. Image and caption: Genesis Mission/NASA.

Genesis space craft
Artist's conception of the Genesis spacecraft in flight with its collectors deployed. Image: NASA.
Solar wind samples are a good surrogate for the solar nebula because a preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the outer layer of the Sun preserves the composition of the early solar nebula.
For most rock-forming elements, the process of solar wind ejection from the Sun does, however, cause significant fractionation of some elements and isotopes. Because of this, Genesis research requires collaboration with solar physicists and, in addition to providing a surrogate for the solar nebula, gives us new information on solar processes.

As Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Project Scientist for Genesis, Dr. Jurewicz worked closely with the science team to develop collectors for the mission. In addition to physical and chemical testing a range of characteristics, from thermal stability and pre-flight cleaning to diffusion studies, Dr. Jurewicz personally fabricated approximately a quarter of the solar wind collectors used on the Genesis spacecraft.

The Genesis spacecraft opened for collection of solar wind.

This artist's conception of the Genesis spacecraft shows it in full operational mode, opened up to collect and store samples of solar wind particles. The cover of the science canister, shown on the right, contains one set of collection materials. It is the same kind of hexagonal silicon wafer array that comprises the stack of four arrays that were rotated out of the interior of the canister when the spacecraft began to orbit L1.
The bottom three of the stacked arrays are controlled independently, and may be rotated out from the cover of the top of the stack to collect particular types of solar wind. Inside the canister is an electrostatic concentrator to increase the collection of light-weight solar wind particles. It is exposed when the array stack is rotated out.
The two solar panels, shown in blue in this drawing, which extend to the side of the spacecraft bus, provide electrical energy for the functions performed by the rest of the spacecraft.
The two balls, shown in pink in this drawing, which sit at the sides of the spacecraft contain fuel for the small thruster rockets that maintain the Genesis spacecraft's orientation facing the Sun during its collection phase. Photo and caption: NASA/JPL.
Genesis Payload
Genesis payload being tested in the JSC cleanrooms. The stack of plates are arrays of solar-wind collectors (colored hexagons) to be deployed for different solar wind regimes (bulk on top). The gold dish is an electrostatic mirror designed to concentrate solar wind and embed it in the center target. Photo: NASA/JSC.
Jurewicz's current research focuses on measuring Fe and Mg abundances in the bulk solar wind. However, she is additionally working with members of the Genesis Science team and the Johnson Space Center (JSC) Genesis curatorial staff on a variety of other tasks, including technique development and standardization, sample surface preparation, and outreach activities.
Recent publications:
Heber V.S., McKeegan K.D., Steele R.C.J., Jurewicz A.J.G., Rieck K.D., Guan Y., Wieler R., and Burnett D.S. (2021) Elemental Abundances of Major Elements in the Solar Wind as Measured in Genesis Targets and Implications on Solar Wind Fractionation. The Astrophysical Journal 907(1): 15.
Jurewicz A. J. G., Rieck K. D., Hervig R., Burnett D. S., Wadhwa M., Olinger C. T., Wiens R. C., Laming J. M., Guan Y., Huss G. R., Reisenfeld D. B., and Williams P. (2020) Magnesium isotopes of the bulk solar wind from Genesis diamond-like carbon films. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 1-25.
Burnett D. S., Jurewicz A. J. G., and Woolum D. S. (2019) The future of Genesis Science. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 54(5): 1092-1114.
Huss G. R., Koeman-Shields E., Jurewicz A. J. G., Burnett D. S., Nagashima K., Ogliore R., and Olinger C. T. Hydrogen fluence in Genesis collectors: Implications for acceleration of solar wind and for solar metallicity. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 1-26 (2019).
More information:
Official Genesis Mission website
Burnett et al. (2003) The Genesis Discovery Mission: return of solar matter to Earth. Space Sci. Rev. 105: 509-534.
Genesis sub-index of Official NASA website on past missions
Genesis sub-index of Astromaterials website of NASA’s Johnson Space Center