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Flawed Revelations?

Contamination may undermine Genesis data
Genesis capsule



NASA/JPL; USAF 388 RANGE SQUADRON

After traveling 1.5 million kilometers beyond Earth to obtain bits of the solar wind, NASA's first automated sample-return mission, Genesis, ended in a crash in the Utah desert on September 8. Researchers do not know just why the parafoil failed to deploy, but they say they feel confident that they can still accomplish the major goals of the mission despite the damaged capsule. Any conclusion stemming from the mission, however, may remain dubious because of the mere possibility of contamination.

Genesis had onboard an estimated 20 micrograms of solar-wind particles collected over three years in space. These particles came from the sun's visible surface, called the photosphere. Ninety-nine percent of it consists of the original material from the primitive nebula that coalesced into the sun and planets; an analysis of the samples would therefore provide a baseline of information about the building blocks of our solar system.

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