astronomy Creation/evolution Physics

Genesis mission to the sun: Did it confirm the nebular theory of formation of the solar system?

The Genesis spacecraft mission, launched in August 2001 by NASA, was designed to observe the solar wind, particles coming from the sun, entrap a sample of those particles on substrates and safely return them to Earth. The spacecraft travelled to a point about 1.5 million kilometers (or about 1 million miles) from Earth called Lagrange point, L1, where the gravitational force of the earth is matched by that of the sun. At this location the Genesis spacecraft was well outside of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic environment, allowing it to collect a ‘pristine’ sample of the solar wind. Genesis’ overall flight path resembled a series of loops (Fig. 1): first it circled five times around L1, called Halo orbit, where it remained for 850 days, then it moved back for a short loop around the opposite Lagrange point, L2, in order to position the spacecraft for a daylight return to Earth.

Figure 1: Genesis spacecraft mission trajectory. Credit: NASA/JPL

On board the spacecraft, ions from the solar-wind impacted the collectors at speeds over 200 km/sec and buried themselves in specially-selected materials. These samples were sealed in enclosures for their safe return to Earth in a sample-return capsule (SRC). Then during the return-to-Earth stage something went horribly wrong. On NASA’s Genesis Search for Origins website it is described as follows.1

On 8 September 2004 the SRC entered Earth’s atmosphere as planned, but its gravity switches were oriented incorrectly as the result of a design error and the parachute system failed to deploy. The high-speed wreck compromised the SRC and shattered many of the Genesis collectors.

The samples were scattered and shattered. But all was not lost it seemed.

However, the Genesis Preliminary Examination Team was able to show that, because the solar-wind ions were buried beneath the surface of the collectors, it is possible to detect and quantify elements in the solar-wind.1

Composition of original solar nebula

Thus in March 2005, Johnson Space Center curatorial staff started allocating solar-wind collectors to the international scientific community to see what could be determined from those samples. The purpose was to glean information on the composition of the solar wind, and hence to determine the chemical and isotopic composition of the original solar nebula which it is alleged formed our solar system. See Fig. 2.

About 4.6 billion years ago, the solar nebula transformed into the present solar system. In order to chemically model the processes which drove that transformation, we would, ideally, like to have a sample of that original nebula to use as a baseline from which we can track changes. NASA’s Genesis sample-return mission is designed to give us just such a baseline composition. It has collected solar wind, material which is ejected from the outer portion of the sun, and returned it to Earth. This material can be thought of as a fossil of our nebula because the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the outer layer of our sun has not changed measurably for billions of years.2

Figure 2: Graphic illustrating, in a clockwise direction, the alleged formation of a solar system from a cloud of dust and molecular gas. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

So the belief system includes the notion that the outer layers of the sun from which the solar wind is derived are unchanged since the alleged solar nebula formed 4.6 billion years ago. By collecting these ions they believe they have collected a sample–sort of a ‘fossil’–of the original nebula material. And from among the various ions collected they believe that …

The most important element to Genesis scientists is oxygen. Scientists do not currently have precise oxygen isotope information about the sun. It is possible that there are widespread differences in isotopic ratios of oxygen on the Earth, moon and Mars versus asteroid materials. No one really knows why these variations might exist. Theories about processes that occurred in the original solar nebula make specific predictions about the relationships between the isotopic composition of solar matter and that of different planets. One interesting possibility is that the planets formed from interstellar dust that had not mixed thoroughly with interstellar gas. Had the gas and dust not mixed well four and a half billion years ago, the solar oxygen composition could be quite different from that on Earth. Therefore, solar oxygen isotope abundance will help scientists better understand the origin of our solar system.3 (emphasis added)

The nebular hypothesis has sun and planets forming from an initial cloud of molecular hydrogen with a dust component derived from supernova explosion(s). The sun allegedly formed first and while in a proto-sun stage a planetary nebula formed from which the planets condensed. The sun concentrated 99.9% of the mass of the cloud, mostly gas, and the residual matter, 0.1%, allegedly differentiated into the inner rocky planets and the outer gas giants. Actually most of the residual mass is in Jupiter and to a lesser extent Saturn, which are gas giants.

According to the theory, essentially it was all the same cloud from which the sun and planets formed.4,5 And as stated most of the cloud is alleged to have condensed into the sun. It is hard then to conceive of how a tiny fraction of gas or dust could not have mixed through the cloud and ended up in the earth or other planets.

So if they discover that the isotopic composition of, say, oxygen in the sun does not match that of the earth then they might conclude (as stated above) that “the planets formed from interstellar dust that had not mixed thoroughly with interstellar gas”. This is very hard to believe in a giant cloud of mostly gas, most of which formed the sun, allegedly. Nevertheless cosmic evolution is a pliable story, and it must be kept that way because if you find something that contradicts the accepted belief then you can easily adjust it to suit.

What was found

By January 2005, the first wafer (collector) with embedded ions from the solar wind had been cleaned of any external debris and was deemed fit for analysis.

Scientists now had their unspoiled piece of the Sun, and they set about examining it. Analyses returned some fascinating results. For one, researchers determined that hypothetical particles called solar energetic particles did not actually exist within the solar wind, countering a long-held supposition from the Apollo era. They also found that that the Sun has a higher proportion of Oxygen-16 (the most common isotope of the element) than Earth. That’s strange, since the Earth and most everything in the solar system was born out of the same nebula. So what happened to the oxygen? Scientists still aren’t sure.6

So the most common isotope of oxygen, oxygen-16, is found in a higher proportion to other oxygen isotopes in the sun than it is on Earth. But the sun and the planets were allegedly all derived from the same gas cloud from which you would expect the same ratios of the isotopes if the story was true. But the science has now shown that the isotopic abundance for oxygen does not agree with the cosmic evolutionary expectation. So to save the nebular hypothesis the believers have to say that “the planets formed from interstellar dust that had not mixed thoroughly with interstellar gas”.

But note this conclusion is based on the underlying assumption that the ions collected in the Genesis mission (Genesis meaning “in the beginning”, the first words in the Bible) were “fossils” of the original nebula cloud about which the mission was intended to find scientific evidence. If the ions are not from a nebula cloud because it never existed–that is, the solar system did not form that way–then the conclusion is invalid. The facts are that (assuming all contamination was eliminated) the ions from the sun have a higher proportion of oxygen-16 than the earth does.

Maybe the Creator made those bodies that way. I say “maybe” because it too relies on the assumption that the ions collected represent pristine conditions from the creation. And the real Genesis mission occurred some 6 thousand years ago, when the Creator of the solar system made the earth of the first day, and the sun and the planets on the fourth day.


  1. Genesis Mission Overview, Genesis Search for Origins, JPL.
  2. Genesis Web Archive Overview, Genesis Search for Origins, JPL, dated October 7, 2009.
  3. Elemental Mysteries for Understanding Elements, Genesis Search for origins, JPL, download PDF.
  4. J.G. Hartnett, Giant molecular clouds, March 15, 2016.
  5. J.G. Hartnett, Planetary system formation: Exposing naturalistic storytelling, April 14, 2016.
  6. R. Pomeroy, How Scientists Collected a Piece of the Sun, March 3, 2017.

Additional Reading

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.

6 replies on “Genesis mission to the sun: Did it confirm the nebular theory of formation of the solar system?”

Venus is retrograde (opposite to other planets) and Uranus’ rotation axis is tilted over at nearly 90 degrees to the plane of planets. These are serious problems for the nebular hypothesis for the formation of the solar system. Besides the biggest problem is that nearly all the angular momentum, 99%, is in the planets (mostly in Jupiter) but it should be in the sun, with 99.9% of the mass, if the nebular hypothesis was correct.


Most gas/dust clouds have to be both dense and cold for the predominate molecular hydrogen to collapse under gravity to even form a protostar. Temperatures have to be on average less than 10 deg K for the virial theorem to kick in. Past spacecraft searching galactic clouds such as Bok globules have shown greater temperatures than that. This all is presupposing that a homogeneous gas cloud can start rotating on its own to create the ellipsoidal shape eventually leading to a protostar. Not very likely.


This question is for John Hartnett. I have heard you speak concerning the dilation of time and on experiments designed to measure it. I am wondering, though, if instead of time speeding up it is actually the clock mechanism itself that is speeding up when placed in a weaker field of gravity. I have heard this argument made by other scientists.

One additional question if you don’t mind – if the big bang did not actually occur, does this invalidate Einstein’s general theory of relativity?


David, The measurements on time dilation measure the difference in absolute time by comparing atomic clocks of the same type in different gravitational fields, for example. It is not an effect on the clock itself as the clock is an atom or collection of atoms, usually Cesium but also Rubidium or some other species. In these type of clocks all types of errors are taken into account, so this effect is very real and easily measurable. The instruments that give position or time based on GPS have a software algorithm that takes the effects of both general relativity (gravity) and special relativity (speed) into account. Without those corrections the instruments would give the wrong values.

On your second question, the answer is no! The big bang cosmology is derived using GR and some unprovable assumptions. GR is not the result of the big bang cosmology, nor is big bang cosmology a test of GR. There are many cosmologies that have been derived from GR, and the standard Friedmann-Lemaitre model is just one of them. See Cosmology’s Achilles’ Heel.


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