Yesterday, NASA released the first photographs of the dwarf planet Pluto and its main satellite Charon taken by the space probe New Horizons after its awakening. The spacecraft was still over 200 million kilometers (about 126 million miles) away from Pluto but February 4, 2015 was the 109th anniversary of the birth of Clyde Tombaugh, who in 1930 discovered the dwarf planet. A small portion of Tombaugh’s ashes were placed aboard New Horizons.
Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, a group of researchers led by asteroseismologists from the University of Birmingham discovered five planets orbiting the star Kepler-444. They’re small rocky planets: the smallest has a size similar to Mercury, the largest has a diameter about three-quarters of the Earth. Another special feature is that the star Kepler-444 is very ancient, with an age estimated to around 11.2 billion years.
In March 2014, the announcement that the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment had detected gravitational waves in the perturbations in the cosmic microwave background radiation existing in the universe was sensational. This echo of cosmic inflation occurred shortly after the Big Bang was an extraordinary discovery. Unfortunately, a collaboration between the BICEP2 experiment and the team of ESA’s Planck space telescope has determined that those weren’t gravitational waves but probably emissions caused by galactic dust.
The SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) satellite was launched on a Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex 2 7320-10LC (SLC-2) of the base of Vandenberg, California. The spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket’s last stage after almost an hour and was placed in a sun-synchronous almost polar orbit that will have an altitude between 660 and 685 km (between 410 and 426 miles).
ESA’s 5-ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle 5) “Georges Lemaître” was used in a manner different from the usual. The cargo spacecraft is docked to the International Space Station since August 12 2014 and yesterday its thrusters were used to lower the Station about a kilometer. The purpose is to allow spaceships that reach it to carry a greater cargo.