Science News for 2015: Pre Retro Future Wrap-up
For our annual year-end wrap-up show on the SGU, we always talk about the best science news of the previous year. That’s always fun to research and reminisce about. This year I thought it’d be interesting to anticipate what the year in front of us could bring in terms of big science news stories. The kind of news we’re almost certain to cover on the show in the coming months and perhaps even give special mention to in the 2015 wrap-up show.
For me, the most anticipated science news for this year is the long-awaited reboot of the LHC; CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland. It’s been offline for a frustrating 21 months. On the plus side, when it comes back on-line this year, it will be near its design-maximum power output of 14 trillion electron volts (7 teravolts for each of its twin proton beams…twice as much as before!) Each beam of minuscule protons will carry as much energy as a speeding freight train. The potential pay-off in this energy regime is pretty cool. The LHC could possibly finally discover particles associated with dark energy or dark matter. It could determine that the Higgs particle they found is not a lone particle-type but just the lightest particle within a bigger and heavier family of Higgs-like particles. It could even find evidence of higher spatial dimensions. How cool would that be! Then again, it could find absolutely nothing in that energy range which would make me cry a little. It could even blow a gasket like the last time it tried to do this in 2008 causing a year-long shutdown and millions of dollars in repairs. More tears. Either way, it certainly is going to be another news-filled year for the LHC.
Pluto will almost certainly be all over the news this year as well. NASA’s New Horizon craft left the earth on January 2006 when Pluto was a planet. It will arrive when it’s just a dwarf planet but Pluto doesn’t care. New Horizons is the fastest craft ever to leave the earth at 50,000 kph (31,000 mph). It will actually start taking measurements in about a week on January 15th. It’s closest approach though won’t happen until July 14th when it’s a mere 12,400 km away. I can’t wait for these pictures after a lifetime of lame and fuzzy bigfoot-like pictures. It will be able to see football field sized objects on its surface and tell us about its atmosphere. After the rendezvous with Pluto and it moons, it will tell us what else it can see in the Kuiper belt region of the solar system. Think about that. It’s no small feat. This is called the third zone of the solar system and is completely uncharted territory. No probe has ever probed this area before which makes it a major footnote in history for that reason alone.
It’s hard to top these anticipated science news events of 2015 but a couple others are worth mentioning.
Who can forget about what Rosetta did in 2014. It landed a probe, Philae, onto a comet for the first time ever in human history. Sure there was a mishap and the probe is silent now but it may wake up when the comet gets closer to the sun and recharges the solar batteries. Even if that doesn’t work, the Rosetta probe itself will still be near the comet observing the tail eruption and the comet’s close approach to the sun in August 2015.
Finally we have Bicep2. This is the collaboration that earlier last year revealed evidence not only for cosmic inflation but also gravity waves which are theorized as ripples in space-time. Other researchers found potentially fatal flaws in their discovery however. All is not lost perhaps because the original findings may still be valid. 2015 will hopefully answer this question with new data being released in January or perhaps by the daughter of Bicep2…Bicep3.
All these potential stories though are really like shooting fish in a barrel. These are events that are anticipated because they’ve been meticulously planned with an apparent solid end-date in the year 2015. Sure, disasters could happen to prevent them from coming to fruition as planned but that in and of itself would be a story too.
I want to end this post with the hope that 2015 will also bring completely unexpected scientific surprises. These kinds of surprises are inevitable every year of course but what if they were truly revolutionary? Like a solid discovery of extra-terrestrial life perhaps. Maybe on mars or, even better, intelligent signals from outer space. What about a major nanotechnology breakthrough like using targeted nanotech drug delivery to cure cancer or the creation of computers orders of magnitude more powerful than the best supercomputers on the drawing board today. We could potentially leapfrog from petaflops over exaflops, right to zettaflops. 10 to the 21 operations per second or one sextillion (you love that number right?). That would be about a million times faster than what we can do today. What about the emergence of true artificial general intelligence in one of the many AI labs around the world. Talk about a revolution. Some of these certainly could happen in 2015, some almost certainly will not. But they all could happen this year. After all, there will come a new year at some point in the future which will see events such as these. Maybe this is the year.
At the very least it will make our picks for the next year-end show very easy.
NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI) and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team