Science Trends: What awaits us in 2016?

Gravitational waves, new particles and commercial geoengineering

The solarail spacecraft Lightsail, which is powered by a solar sail, is scheduled to start in April 2016. © Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society
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What will be the trends and top topics of science this year? Where can you look forward to breakthroughs? The journal "Nature" has dared the prognosis. Accordingly, there is a good chance that physicists will detect gravitational waves for the first time in 2016 and perhaps also new particles. In addition, the first commercial facility to capture carbon dioxide from the air goes into operation and a spacecraft with solar drive starts.

In retrospect, selecting the highlights and top researchers of a year is difficult enough, but even more tricky is predicting where the biggest advances and most exciting discoveries will be made next year. Nevertheless, the journal "Nature" has dared a first outlook and highlights a few areas of expertise, projects and events that they believe will have special significance in 2016.

Detection of gravitational waves

According to physicists, it is quite possible that gravitational waves will be detected directly for the first time this year - the waves of space-time caused by explosive events such as supernovae or the fusion of black holes. So far, the existence of these waves predicted by Albert Einstein can only be proven indirectly, for example by energy losses of cosmic objects.

View of the gravitational wave detector VIRGO in Italy. © VIRGO Collaboration

But in 2016 there could be two gravitational wave detectors that can capture these waves directly. The LIGO detector in the USA was rebuilt in 2015 and is now ten times more sensitive than before and the upgraded detector VIRGO in Italy is also expected to be operational again. Both can now capture gravitational waves from a much larger area of ​​space and that increases the chance of detection enormously. Researchers are therefore relatively certain that they can detect gravitational waves within just one year with this generation of detectors.

First commercial CO2 catcher

2016 could also be the year in which first geoengineering technologies are being used commercially. After all, there are two companies in the starting blocks who want to capture and further process the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air using "Air Capture". While the capture of CO2 from power plant exhaust has already been implemented, recovering the gas directly from the air has previously been considered unprofitable because its concentration is much lower there. display

In July, a first commercial plant of Climeworks in the Swiss town of Hinwil is to be put into operation. The CO2 is chemically bound with the help of granules of potassium hydroxide and then separated from the granules later. Around 1, 000 tonnes of CO2 per year should be captured from the atmosphere. Since October 2015, a similar facility in British Columbia British Columbia is in operation. It gains around one ton of CO2 per day.

NASA spacecraft Juno will reach Jupiter in June. NASA / JPL

Space: Mars, Jupiter and a planned crash

In space, too, a lot is happening in 2016: in March, the European-Russian mission ExoMars 2016 will be launched on the Red Planet. It consists of an orbiter and a simple land probe and is, so to speak, the vanguard of a more extensive landing mission in 2018. In April, the Planetary Society is planning the first test flight of the lightsail powered by a giant sunshade. In June 2016, the NASA spacecraft Juno will reach Jupiter after its five-year journey. Also in June, the first test satellite for quantum communication will be launched in Earth orbit.

On the other hand, we have to say goodbye to the ESA spacecraft Rosetta. She will go on a collision course with "her" comet in September 2016 and crash there. That sounds brutal, but gives the researchers one last chance to see and examine the surface of the comet from a great distance. Lander Philae has remained mute since a last sign of life in July 2015.

New particles and stronger X-ray flashes

In the microcosm there could also be new discoveries. Because 2016 is the first full year in which the particle accelerator LHC will run with its new, higher energy. His data may clarify whether the recently discovered "hump" of excess photons and other anomalies are evidence of new particles. "We are on the threshold of an exciting time in particle physics, " predicted in mid-2015, the physicist Fleming Crim of the US National Science Foundation.

In Sweden, the first synchrotron of the fourth generation goes into operation in June. The ring accelerator generates intense and compact x-ray pulses by forcing electrons to roll on a near-light speed. The new synchrotron concentrates the electrons into smaller packages than previously possible, thereby producing even denser X-ray flashes.

(Nature, 04.01.2016 - NPO)