Science Trends: What awaits us in 2017?

A look into the black hole, the XFEL and China as a climate protection pioneer

If Einstein's theory of relativity is correct, then the first image of the black hole in the heart of the Milky Way would have to look similar to the one on the right. Whether this is the case will turn out in April 2017. © NASA / CXC / MIT / F. Baganoff, R. Shcherbakov et al. / EHT
Read out

The year 2017 could offer some exciting breakthroughs and events. For example, astronomers want to photograph the event horizon of "our" black hole for the first time, a space probe brings the first moon samples since the Apollo missions to earth and the patent dispute over the CRISPR gene scissors is the decision. It will also be interesting to see if Trump actually torpedo US climate protection and China can then jump into the breach.

The year 2016 has brought many important breakthroughs in research and brought us quite a few surprises. But even more difficult than selecting the highlights of last year is to take a look into the future. The journal "Nature" has made a first prognosis about what we could expect in 2017 in the world of science.

Astronomy: view into the black hole

For astronomy and astrophysics it will be particularly exciting in April 2017. Because then it will succeed for the first time to photograph the event horizon of a black hole. Nine radio telescopes distributed around the world are combined to form the "Event Horizon Telescope". Sightsee Sagittarius A *, the supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way.

The problem: This gravity giant is 25, 000 light-years away from us - and only as tall as 17 suns. But with the combined resolution of the telescopes, astronomers hope to get clear first shots of what's happening at the edge of the black hole - where gasses light up one last time before they are devoured. Already in 2015, the incomplete telescope network made a first measurement of the magnetic fields in this region.

At the same time, the images should also verify a prediction of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. According to this, the enormous curvature of spacetime at the black hole would produce a dark, circular shadow surrounded by a thin, bright ring of light. However, if the shadow were shifted laterally, this would be a departure from Einstein's theory. You can be curious. display

More valuable than gold: the lunar rocks of the Apollo missions are the only one we have. NASA

Moon Samples and Planet 9

In the solar system, the search for Planet 9 continues at full speed. So far, this ninth planet, hidden in the Kuiper Gorge, has betrayed itself only by its effect on distant rocks. But if the Neptune planet actually exists, it could possibly be found this year.

New discoveries hope planetary researchers from the Chinese moon probe Chang'e-5. It should start in 2017 to the earth satellite, take there samples of the moon rock and bring them back to earth again. If this attempt succeeds, then this would be the first moon samples since the Apollo missions. The at least two kilograms of lunar rock could, researchers hope, make some of the outstanding questions about the history and geology of the moon.

Hard times for the climate

Unsurprisingly, 2017 could bring a harsh rebound for climate protection. Because the new US President Donald Trump could be serious with his announcement to get out of the climate agreement of Paris and again rely more on fossil fuels. If this were to happen, the US, as one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, would set a direct course for unchecked warming.

However, there is hope for progress in China, the country with the highest CO2 emissions worldwide. The Chinese government announced that it will begin its national cap and trade system this year. So far, this emissions trading system has already been tested in seven pilot regions of the country. According to a national commitment, China aims to reduce the share of fossil fuels used in energy production by 20 percent by 2030, and to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 60 to 65 percent in 2005.

View into the photon tunnel at the European XFEL European XFEL

XFEL: New insights into molecules and reactions

In the summer of 2017, the scientific experiments will begin at the European XFEL. They could give completely new insights into molecules and the exact course of chemical reactions. The world's most powerful X-ray laser achieves a billion-fold higher radiation intensity than the previous sources and produces 27, 000 X-ray laser flashes per second.

CRISPR patent dispute and bad luck for German researchers

This year, it is likely that the decision on the patent dispute will be on CRISPR / Cas9. At present, the University of California on the one hand and Harvard University and the Broad Institute on the other are arguing about who gets the rights to the coveted and future-proof gene scissors. It's about a lot of money: The winner could take in billions of dollars in royalties.

For researchers at many German universities and institutes could be a hard time. Because in December 2016, the attempt failed to negotiate with the specialist publisher Elsevier a collective contract. He would have granted German scientists more favorable access to many important journals. In anticipation of this contract, many facilities have canceled their existing subscriptions - and are now without access.

It is now becoming more complicated for the scientists concerned, whose work often requires insight into specialist articles. They either have to try to get the publication by interlibrary loan or they visit the illegal Sci-Hub platform, which offers hacked articles freely to download.

(nature news, Science, 02.01.2017 - NPO)