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.
A new species of orchard bee discovered by Brazilian biologist Andre Nemesio has been named Euglossa bazinga, in honor of the catch phrase used by television character Sheldon Cooper on the show The Big Bang Theory. Cooper, portrayed by Jim Parsons, uses the phrase to indicate he has perpetrated a practical joke. According to Nemesio, the name is fitting since the bee had tricked scientists with its similarity to other species.
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.
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.