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sundust catcher — update 2, there is hope

“The main experiment - a special collector designed to concentrate a large amount of solar-wind material in small areas - came through largely intact. The key now is to take what is left of the wafers and decontaminate them. The wafers were meant to be handled in a clean room. The solar-wind particles embedded themselves in the wafers to a depth of roughly 50 billionths of a meter, or 50 nanometers. But excessive exposure to ambient air allows contaminants to build up on the wafers' surfaces. The trick, mission officials say, is to find ways to remove the surface grunge without eating too deeply into the wafers.”

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sundust catcher — update, not wonderful

The Genesis sample capsule crashed down to Earth yesterday at close to 9.8 metres per second, unable to be caught by either waiting helicopter.

Why? The parachutes failed to open.

Why? “For whatever reasons, none of the pyros on board fired”.

But all is not lost.

We're encouraged by the news out of Utah, despite the hard impact landing of the Genesis Sample Return capsule. The spacecraft was designed in a way to give us the best chance at salvaging the valuable science payload should we suffer a landing like the one we witnessed today.”

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sundust catcher returns wednesday, live mid-air stunts included

“The Genesis mission -- to capture a piece of the Sun and return it to Earth” finishes on 8 September when “NASA's Genesis spacecraft is set to swing by Earth and jettison a sample return capsule filled with particles of the Sun”.

“The spacecraft's sample return capsule will be snagged in mid-air by helicopter over the skies of central Utah, at the Air Force's Utah Test & Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake City.”

the purpose of the genesis mission

“The theory behind the Genesis mission is that retrieving solar wind particles - pieces of the Sun's outer layer that are the mass of a few grains of sand - and analyzing those samples will give us greater insight into planetary formation and diversity.”

For the Genesis scientists, it is crucial that the particles be pure and unaltered from any interaction with Earth's magnetic field. To obtain this pristine sample, a spacecraft had to be sent deep into space, far beyond the extensive magnetic environment of Earth.

“[...] Genesis [...] traveled to an area in space between Earth and the Sun where the gravity of the two bodies is balanced. There, it collected solar wind particles for more than two years [3 December 2001 to 1 April 2004] from an area in space far from the interfering effects of any planet.

“The particles were embedded in specially designed and manufactured, high-purity wafers of sapphire, silicon, diamond and other materials. Now this pure sample of solar particles is being brought to Earth.”

“The samples will be handled in clean rooms to protect them from contamination by Earth material.”

why the mid-air catching stunt?

“If the capsule were to descend all the way to the ground, some might fracture or break away from their mountings. Hence, the mid-air retrieval by helicopter, with crew including pilots who have performed helicopter stunt work for Hollywood.”

“[...] two chase helicopters (one lead and one backup) outfitted with specially designed retrieval equipment, maneuver for a mid-air capture. The lead helicopter follows the parafoil's glide path, hooks and collapses the chute, and gently lowers the capsule into a sealed container. This is all done in an effort to safely transport the capsule to contamination-controlled laboratory tents, without disturbing the solar samples inside.

“What if you miss catching it and it parachutes to the ground?

“If the sample return capsule lands on its own, some of the delicate collector materials will likely break, making the sample more difficult to identify and categorize. The sample would still be valuable, but it would take longer for scientists to sort through the broken pieces.”

Historical background on mid-air catches.

See it live on NASA NASA TV and the Internet
Sept. 8, Sample Return coverage: 15.00. - 18.00 UT
              Mission briefing: 19.30 UT.

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why is granny 100,000 years older than grandad?

“ There’s an apparent paradox in our molecular genealogy, however: different genes tell different stories. Research on one set of genes indicates that all humans on earth descend from an African woman who lived 170,000 years ago. Scientists studying a different group of genes recently concluded that all humans descend from an African man who lived 59,000 years ago. Even allowing for a healthy margin of error in these estimates, it would seem that Eve lived more than 100,000 years before Adam.”

“ It’s intriguing that Y-chromosome Adam appears to have lived so much later than mitochondrial Eve. His Y chromosome apparently needed less time to overwhelm the human gene pool. One possible explanation for this speed is that one of the genes on Adam’s Y chromosome had a mutation that gave it an evolutionary edge, and natural selection then drove its spread. But natural selection of a gene is not the only force capable of making it more widespread-culture might have been responsible. Perhaps it was common 59,000 years ago for only a few men in each band to earn the privilege of fathering children. If that was the case, Y-chromosome lineages might have gone extinct quickly, because most men would have been unable to pass on their genes. The Stanford team is now exploring these two possible explanations.”

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there is grandeur in the growling of the gale [1]

Hurricane Frances continues its fierce progression across the Atlantic towards Florida, U.S.A, having swept over the Gulf of Mexico. Although now reduced to a Category 3 hurricane, from a Category 4 (out of 5 levels), Hurricane Frances is still blowing with 115 mph gusts.

2.5 million people were warned to evacuate the region. There are recent reports of a million already on the move. However,

“With the path of Hurricane Frances uncertain, shelter capacity limited and evacuation routes sure to be jammed, emergency officials are advising most residents to ride out the storm at home.”

Advice for what to do for those who decide to “hunker down”.

Hurricane Frances; image credit: UW-CIMSS

image credit: WS-CIMSS

Hurricane Fances at 20:45 UT, a colour-enhanced storm-centered infrared image. Image from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at Wisconsin University.

The image link is from the Hurricane Frances page.

NASA’s MODIS Rapid Response System Image Gallery has satellite images of Frances when she was younger, as well as images of other tropical storms around the world.


image credit: MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Hurricane Frances. image credit: MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

More pretty images are availble from the GOES-12 Interactive Infrared Weather Satellite Image Viewer at NASA’s Global Hydrology and Cimate Center.

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end notes
1 From The Mikado.

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