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.
Former JPL Director Bruce C. Murray (b.1931) died on August 29. Murray served as director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1976 through 1982, a period that saw the launch of the Voyager probes. While serving as director, Murray co-founded, along with Carl Sagan and Louis Friedman, the Planetary Society, in 1980, to support research related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach, and political advocacy.
In Heinlein’s 1956 novel Time for the Stars, he described an experiment in which one identical twin was sent on a space mission while the other stayed at home. NASA has now announced that it will be using a set of twins to examine the effects of prolonged space flight on the human body. Astronaut Scott Kelly, veteran of two shuttle missions and a former ISS Commander, will spend a year aboard the ISS for NASA longest spaceflight ever. His brother, Mark Kelley, who flew four shuttle missions, including as commander of Endeavour‘s final flight, will remain on Earth as the control. Scott Kelly is scheduled to join the ISS crew in March 2014.
The Russian Olympic Committee has announced that all gold medals awarded on February 15, 2014 at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will contain pieces of the meteorite that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on February 15, 2013. Seven sets of gold medals will be awarded on the anniversary of the meteor strike, including Men’s 1,500 meter Speedskating, Women’s 1,000m and Men’s 1,500m Short Track, Women’s Cross-Country Skiing Relay, Men’s K-125 Ski Jump, Women’s Super Giant Slalom, and Men’s Skeleton.
Jeff Bezos has confirmed that the engines his team discovered on the ocean floor in March are in fact the engines which launched the Apollo XI to the Moon in 1969. His announcement, based on the discovery of part numbers at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, comes one day before the 44th anniversary of the first lunar landing, accomplished by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin using the engines Bezos has recovered.
Astronomer Mark Showalter has discovered a fourteenth moon of Neptune while examining old imagery of the planet taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The new moon, currently called S/2004 N 1, is believed to be twelve miles in diameter and orbiting Neptune at a distance of 65,400 miles, between the orbits of the moons Larissa and Proteus. This is the sixth moon Showalter has been involved in discovering, including the two recently named Plutonian moons, Styx and Kerberos.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced that a privately funded effort has located and recovered two of Apollo 11’s first stage F1 engines located on the ocean floor about 350 miles from Cape Canaveral in 3 miles of water. The engines were part of the first stage booster that lifted Apollo 11 on the flight that resulted in the first manned landing on the moon.
The Chelyabinsk region of Russia was struck by a ten ton meteorite on the morning of February 15, just hours before a 150 foot asteroid is scheduled to pass between Earth and communications satellites. The shock waves from the meteor passing through the atmosphere blew out glass in six cities and four towns, damaged more than 100,000 square meters of glass, and caused nearly 1,000 injuries, most of them related to flying glass.
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.