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.
Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner set a new world’s record for highest skydive, leaping from a balloon at an altitude of 128,000. He broke the record set by Joseph Kittinger on August 16, 1960. Kittinger, who worked as an advisor to Baumgartner, had jumped from 102,800 feet. During the jump, Baumgartner also because the first human to break the sound barrier without the use of a jet, achieving that feat on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager becoming the first human to break the sound barrier. Baumgartner’s leap was sponsored by Red Bull Energy Drink.
Astronaut Sally Ride (b.1951) died on July 23. In 1983, Ride became the first American woman (and youngest at that time) astronaut to fly into space when she flew on Challenger flight STS-7. Prior to that she worked on the development of the shuttle’s robotic arm. She flew on Challenger again in 1984 and was in training for a third flight when Challenger explored. Ride left NASA in 1987 and taught physics. In 2003, she served on the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, has announced the addition of Sy Liebergot as a special guest. Liebergot served as EECOM for NASA from Apollo 8 to Apollo 15 and was on duty when an explosion rocked Apollo 13. He continued to work at NASA and served as controller for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Mission.
Norman Edmund (b.1916) died on January 16. Following World War II, Edmund began a catalog company as a reseller of military lenses rendered obsolete by the invention of radar. The company grew into Edmund Scientific, which sold telescopes, microscopes, chemistry kits, robot parts, gyroscopes, and the famous drinking bird among other scientific equipment and supplies.
A collection of more than 300 fossils collected an examined by Charles Darwin have been found by Howard Falcon-Lang at the British Geological Survey after being lost for more than 150 years. The fossils included specimens collected by Darwin in the Galapagos as well as samples collected by Darwin’s colleagues, and were used to help Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.
NASA has announced that SpaceX has been given permission to dock the Dragon capsule with the International Space Station. The Dragon will be carried aloft by the Falcon 9 Rocket on February 7, contingent on final safety reviews, testing and verification of the craft.
Astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were honored on November 16 when they were each awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda. The medals were presented by Representatives John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi and Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the United States. Glenn flew into space twice, on the third Mercury mission and on STS-95. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins flew on the first lunar landing mission and each also flew on a Gemini mission. The Apollo astronauts received the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1969.