Two papers in this week’s issue of Science report the first oxygen and nitrogen isotopic measurements of the Sun, demonstrating that they are very different from the same elements on Earth.
These results were the top two priorities of NASA’s Genesis mission, which was the first spacecraft to return from beyond the Moon, crashing in the Utah desert in 2004 after its parachute failed to deploy during re-entry.
Most of the Genesis payload consisted of fragile solar-wind collectors, which had been exposed to the solar particles over a period of two years. Nearly all of these collectors were decimated during the crash. But the capsule also contained a special instrument built by a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory to enhance the flow of solar wind onto a small target to make possible oxygen and nitrogen measurements. The targets of this Solar Wind Concentrator survived the crash and eventually yielded today’s solar secrets.
"Genesis is the biggest comeback mission since Apollo 13," said Roger Wiens, a Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist and Genesis flight payload lead. "Everyone who saw the crash thought it was a terrible disaster, but instead the project has been fully successful, and the results are absolutely fascinating."
The results provide 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 Wiens. "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."
For oxygen, the evidence points toward a different astrophysical mechanism called photochemical self-shielding, which the authors believe modified the composition of space dust before it coalesced to form the planets, including Earth. According to the article, the Sun shows an enrichment of pure 16O relative to Earth instead of differences in 16O, 17O, and 18O that are proportional to their atomic weight or some other mixture that doesn’t show exclusive enrichment of a single isotope. This unique arrangement strongly favors the self-shielding theory, in which solar UV radiation was responsible for uniformly enhancing the two rarer isotopes, 17O and 18O, in the terrestrial planets.
The Science papers are titled "A 15N-poor isotopic composition for the solar system as shown by Genesis solar wind samples" and "The oxygen isotopic composition of the Sun inferred from captured solar wind." Wiens is among several collaborating authors on both papers, which together are cover stories for this issue. Other LANL coauthors, Beth Nordholt and Ron Moses, along with former LANL scientist Dan Reisenfeld, were all part of the team to develop and fly the Solar Wind Concentrator that provided the samples for the studies reported in Science.
And now that some of the particles flowing past Earth from the sun are in hand, "It’s going to make a mission to a comet all the more interesting," Wiens said.
NASA’s Genesis mission was managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory with major contributions from Lockheed Martin, Caltech, and Johnson Space Center.
Related information online:http://genesis.lanl.gov
Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.
LANL news media contact: Nancy Ambrosiano, (505) 667-0471, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Ambrosiano | EurekAlert!
Energy-efficient spin current can be controlled by magnetic field and temperature
17.08.2018 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Scientists create biodegradable, paper-based biobatteries
08.08.2018 | Binghamton University
New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference
Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...
17.08.2018 | Event News
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
17.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2018 | Information Technology
17.08.2018 | Life Sciences