United Space Alliance has proposed the Commercial Space Transportation Service, which would keep two orbiters in the space shuttle fleet, Atlantis and Endeavour active and flying two missions each year from 2013 through 2017 while the United States gets a new generation of manned launch vehicles ready. NASA has not officially commented on the USA plan and is publicly stating that the current plans to send the three orbiters to museums.
Results from the first four months of observation from the Kepler space observatory have been released indicating the discovery of more than 1200 potential planets, including 165 Jupiter-class planets, 662 Neptune-class planets, 288 superEarth class planets, and 68 Earth-class planets, 54 of which are considered to be in the habitable zone. Kepler has been searching a portion of the sky that includes the constellation Cygnus and Lyra and looked at 156,000 stars during the period covered by the released data.
Kathryn Aurora Gray, a 10-year-old from Fredericton, Canada, discovered a supernova in the constellation Camelopardalis on January 3 in an image she took with her father on New Year’s Eve. Supernova 2010lt is a magnitude-17 supernova in galaxy UGC 3378. The supernova is about 240 million light-years away from Earth.
Waleed Abdalati has been named Chief Scientist at NASA by NASA Administrator Charles Borden. Abdalati will assume his new position on January 3, 2011. Currently the director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Abdalati will serve as the principal adviser to the NASA administrator on agency science programs, strategic planning and the evaluation of related investments. Previously, Abdalati was head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
The Voyager 1 space probe has entered the Heliosheath, an area where the solar wind drops to zero velocity. The heliosheath is the final region of our solar system and scientists believe that Voyager is within five years of crossing the heliopause, the edge of the solar system, and entering interstellar space. Scientists had previously thought Voyager was preparing to make the jump to interstellar space in 2005, but since the probe is in unknown territory, it is still sending back data which is changing astronomers’ models of the solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager completed its mission to study the Jovian planets in 1989 when it passed Neptune. It is now located about 17.4 billion miles from Earth and is still sending back data.
Recent measurements of Eris, the dwarf planet discovered in 2005 which led to the reclassification of Pluto, indicate that the object may be smaller than originally believed. Eris’s high density means that the plutoid is most likely smaller, although more massive, the Pluto, which may now be the largest of the dwarf planets. The new measurements of Eris were conducted during an occultation by the plutoid of a star in Cetus, observed in the Chilean Andes on November 6.
Deep Impact passed within 700 km (435 miles) of Comet Hartley 2 on November 4, returning pictures of the comet’s head which show the object to be shaped like a bowling pin. Comet Hartley 2 is about 1.6 km (1 mile) long. Deep Impact took several thousand images during its fly-by. This is the second cometary fly-by for Deep Impact, which had a fly-by and dropped an impactor on Comet Tempel 1 in 2005.
A small asteroid (2010 TD54) passed around 28,000 miles from Earth on October 12, slightly higher than satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The asteroid, which was only about 6 meters in diameter, passed over Singapore around 6:50 EDT. Had the asteroid hit Earth, it would have vaporized in the atmosphere.
Astronomers have discovered the most hospitable exoplanet yet found orbiting the star Gliese 581, about 20 light years from Earth. The new planet has been named Gliese 581g, one of two additional planets discovered orbiting Gliese 581, brings that star’s system to six planets. Gliese 581g has a mass between 3 and 4 times that of Earth and orbits in the middle of the star’s habitable zone. The planet is believed to be tidally locked to its primary.
Asteroid 2010 RX30 passed within 154,000 miles of Earth at 5:51am ET on September 8. Approximately twelve hours later, at 5:12pm ET, asteroid 2010 RF12 is expected to pass within 49,088 miles of Earth. The asteroids are both estimated to be less than 70 feet in diameter and neither poses a threat to Earth. For comparison, the Moon is approximately 238,857 miles away.