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.
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.
Asteroid 2005 YU55 is scheduled to pass within approximately 201,700 miles of the Earth on November 8, closer than the Moon’s orbit but further away than many other recent asteroid passes. However, 2005 YU55 is 1,300 feet across, making it the largest asteroid to pass the Earth since 1976, although it doesn’t pose any danger. The next known large asteroid to pass near Earth won’t happen until 2028.
British amateur Astronomer Nick Howes is leading a search to find Snoopy, the lunar module used by the Apollo 10 crew to fly within 8.5 miles of the lunar surface. Following the mission, the module was jettisoned into a solar orbit while the crew returned to Earth in the command module, Charlie Brown.
The Herschel spacecraft, launched by the European Space Agency, has determined that water in the upper atmosphere of Saturn comes from the moon Enceladus, which orbits approximately 238,000 km from the planet. Enceladus spews water into space at a rate of 250kg/s. Scientists estimate that between 3-5% of that is captured by Saturn, which is enough to account for the levels of water found in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Astronomers have discovered the first asteroid to orbit in the leading Lagrange point of the Earth. 2010 TK7 is nearly 300m across and has an irregular orbit which can bring it within 20 million kilometers of the Earth. The asteroid was discovered by the Near Earth Orbit project using the WISE satellite, launched in 2009.