Sampling the sun

2:56pm, January 2, 2002

Late in November, NASA's Genesis spacecraft opened its collector arrays and began gathering samples of the solar wind, the breeze of ions that flows from the sun's outer layers. Positioned at the point where Earth's gravity balances that of the sun, the craft will collect samples for 30 months.

If all goes according to plan, Genesis will return to Earth in 2004 and release a capsule containing the samples. Caught in midair by helicopter, the capsule will be flown to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the solar wind samples distributed to scientists.

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