The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has successfully inserted the Mars Orbital Mission (MOM) into Martian orbit, making it the first country to successfully send an orbiter to Mars on its first attempt. The cost of the mission was also just over $70 million, making it one of the least expensive missions to Mars. The mission will study surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and Martian atmosphere.
NASA has signed contracts with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to provide transportation for astronauts from the US to the International Space Station. Since July 2011, when Atlantis last docked with the ISS, astronauts have been flying to the ISS on Russian spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. SpaceX and Boeing will be ready for launch in 2017.
Fan and scientist Brother Guy Consolmagno has been award the 2014 Carl Sagan Medal. The Carl Sagan Medal is for presented for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public. Consolmagno, who has been a long-time con attendee, works as an astronomer for the Vatican and has written Brother Astronomer and Turn Left at Orion. The Sagan Medal is presented by the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences.
British scientist Colin Pillinger (b.1943) died on May 7. Pillinger was the force behind the Beagle 2 space probe sent to Mars in 2003, although the probe burned up in the Martian atmosphere. Prior to that Pillinger had worked studying samples brought back by Apollo 11.
Astronomers have discovered the first known asteroid with a ring. Asteroid 10199 Chariklo, an asteroid orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, is the first object known to have a ring that isn’t a gas giant. The two concentric rings are dense, thin, and bright according to astronomers. The outer ring is 3 km wide and the inner ring is 6.5 km wide with a gap of 9 km between the rings. Chariklo is 250 km wide.
On February 26, NASA announced the discovery of an addition 715 planets found by the Kepler space observatory. These 715 planets are in orbit around 305 distinct stars and NASA has said that four of the planets orbit in the Golidlocks zone, where life is possible. THe new planets join nearly 1,000 previously discovered extrasolar planets and are from data collected by Kepler between its launch in 2009 and 2011.
China’s Jade Rabbit lunar rover, also known as Yutu, suffered a potentially mission ending breakdown which prevents it from hibernating during the 14-day long lunar night. If it does not enter hibernation mode, the rover may cease to function. The Chinese space agency issued a light-hearted news release, written as if by the rover, to announce the issue.
The ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory has detected signs of water vapor being ejected from Ceres, the largest asteroid. The two plumes, which are in different regions of the asteroid, are probably sublimation of ice into clouds of vapor or ice volcanoes. Scientists have believed that Ceres might have water for more than thirty year, but this was the first proof.
China landed the Chang’e 3 probe on the Moon at Sinus Iridium on December 14 at 8:11 a.m. EST. The probe carries the lunar rover Yutu and makes China the third country, along with the US and the Soviet Union, the successfully send probes to the Moon. This is the first soft landing on the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 landed in 1976. China launched Chang’e 3 on December 2 and it has been in Lunar orbit since December 7.
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.