Director Meenakshi Wadhwa and Faculty Research Associate Amy Jurewicz are currently conducting research on the recovery and analysis of the GENESIS solar-wind collector materials. Solar wind is a direct analog of the early solar nebula, so from its composition we will glean insight into how our Solar System formed. GENESIS is a NASA mission which collected solar-wind sample for two years, prior to a hard landing in Utah during the return to Earth.
Left: Artist’s conception of the Genesis spacecraft in flight with its collectors deployed.
Both Wadhwa and Jurewicz are working on complementary projects focused on determining the Mg and Fe composition of the solar wind. Wadhwa’s laboratory has validated Mg-isotopic standards used for analyses of elemental abundances by secondary ion mass spectrometry.
Wadhwa is also currently gearing up to measure Mg isotopes in a suite of Genesis solar wind samples, each one collected from a different deployable array on the spacecraft that was designed to collect samples of specific solar wind regimes (bulk, fast, slow, or coronal mass ejection). The study of Mg isotopes from different regimes can also be considered a solar physics experiment, because if different isotopic compositions are observed among the different regimes, they will represent fractionation by distinct solar processes.
Jurewicz’s 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 JSC Genesis curatorial staff on a variety of other tasks, including technique development and standardization, sample surface preparation, and outreach activities.