Collecting the Wind

Painting Completed 1992
13 1/2 x 10 inches, Acrylic on Aircraft Plywood

Without the Sun, none of us would be here to look at this painting. The continuous nuclear activity on the Sun produces abundant energy and sends enormous amounts of ionized particles, called the solar wind, streaming out into space. The strong magnetic field of the Earth deflects most of this solar wind away from our planet. The Moon does not have this natural shield.

I painted Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin deploying the solar wind composition experiment. It's a five-section telescopic pole than an aluminum foil screen rolled up on a reel. The foil would be left exposed to direct sunlight for seventy-seven minutes, then rolled up, placed in a sample box, and returned to Earth for examination. With this experiment, we hoped to gather a bit of the Sun.

Buzz would later say, "The shaft extended and the foil unrolled easily. In putting it in the ground, it went down about four or five inches. The cast shadow afforded a check that I had mounted it perpendicular to the Sun."

Sensitive post-flight testing showed that perhaps 100 trillion solar particles - atoms of helium, neon, and argon - streaming from the Sun and, indeed, imbedded themselves in the foil, penetrating as much as a millionth of an inch. As predicted, it was a small sample, less than a billionth of an ounce, but sufficient to learn new and important information about our most important star.