In 1953, Fritz Leiber published The Wanderer, about a planet that moved through interstellar space, without a sun to orbit. Scientists have now announced the discovery of PSO J318.5-22, a gas giant located 80 light years from Earth that does not orbit a primary. With only six times the mass of Jupiter, the planet is believed to be 12 million years old, relatively young for a planet. The lack of a primary makes it easier for scientists to study the planet.
Former JPL Director Bruce C. Murray (b.1931) died on August 29. Murray served as director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1976 through 1982, a period that saw the launch of the Voyager probes. While serving as director, Murray co-founded, along with Carl Sagan and Louis Friedman, the Planetary Society, in 1980, to support research related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach, and political advocacy.
The Russian Olympic Committee has announced that all gold medals awarded on February 15, 2014 at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will contain pieces of the meteorite that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on February 15, 2013. Seven sets of gold medals will be awarded on the anniversary of the meteor strike, including Men’s 1,500 meter Speedskating, Women’s 1,000m and Men’s 1,500m Short Track, Women’s Cross-Country Skiing Relay, Men’s K-125 Ski Jump, Women’s Super Giant Slalom, and Men’s Skeleton.
Astronomer Mark Showalter has discovered a fourteenth moon of Neptune while examining old imagery of the planet taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The new moon, currently called S/2004 N 1, is believed to be twelve miles in diameter and orbiting Neptune at a distance of 65,400 miles, between the orbits of the moons Larissa and Proteus. This is the sixth moon Showalter has been involved in discovering, including the two recently named Plutonian moons, Styx and Kerberos.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced that a privately funded effort has located and recovered two of Apollo 11′s first stage F1 engines located on the ocean floor about 350 miles from Cape Canaveral in 3 miles of water. The engines were part of the first stage booster that lifted Apollo 11 on the flight that resulted in the first manned landing on the moon.
The Chelyabinsk region of Russia was struck by a ten ton meteorite on the morning of February 15, just hours before a 150 foot asteroid is scheduled to pass between Earth and communications satellites. The shock waves from the meteor passing through the atmosphere blew out glass in six cities and four towns, damaged more than 100,000 square meters of glass, and caused nearly 1,000 injuries, most of them related to flying glass.
In 2011 and 2012, two new moons were discovered in orbit around Pluto. Called P4 and P5, the scientists who discovered the moons have put up a poll asking internet users to select from one of twelve names (or to write in a suggestion) as to what the moons should be called. The choices, all of which have a mythical tie to the underworld, are Acheron, Alecto, Cerberus, Erebus, Eurydice, Hercules, Hypnos, Lethe, Obol, Orpheus, Persephone, and Styx.
NASA manager Jesco von Puttkamer (b.1933) died on December 27 at his home. Von Puttkamer immigrated to the US in 1962 and joined Wernher von Braun’s team in Huntsville, Alabama, where he worked on Apollo. He also worked on the Skylab program and helped rescue the space station when it would have been sold for scrap after it deorbited. While working at NASA, he also served as a Technical Advisor to Paramount Pictures for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. For more than a decade, von Puttkamer was responsible for the daily ISS Onorbit Status reports. In addition to published more than a dozen non-fiction books, he also published the Star Trek novelette “The Sleeping God.”
Astronomer Patrick Moore (b.1923) died at his home on December 9. Moore collaborated with artist David A. Hardy on the Hugo Award-nominated Futures: 50 Years in Space: The Challenge of the Stars. He served as the President of the British Astronomical Association and was the co-founder of the Society for Popular Astronomy. Moore was invited to run an observatory in East Grinstead when he was only 14.
Scientists have discovered a planet only slightly larger than Earth in orbit around Alpha Centauri, only 4.37 light years from Earth (only Proxima Centauri is closer). The planet, which was discovered based on fluctuations in the star’s movement, orbits closer to its primary than Mercury does and completes an orbit every three days. The discovery was made using data from La Silla Observatory in Chile and will be officially announced in Nature on October 17.