Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Predictions for the new decade

In December, we were deluged by typical "Year-In-Review" articles summarizing big news stories of the previous year.  I also saw many (mostly dismal) reviews of the past decade.   I didn't feel like recapping other people's recaps, so I stayed out of that fray.

However, I have been thinking a lot about the future, and what may happen in the decade to come.  Therefore, I've decided to make a list of my predictions of astronomy-related happenings and discoveries that will be announced between now and December 31, 2019.  Unlike Nostradamus, I'm going to be relatively specific in my predictions, and I'm going to rank them by how likely I honestly think each event is.  Come back on January 1, 2020 and we'll see how I did. 
I'll bet my paycheck (No-brainers):

  • Discovery of Earth-radius planets in Earth-like orbits around sun-like stars.  I bet that Kepler will find at least one, and maybe dozens.  I'm so confident about this, let me even be quantitative: humans will discover a planet with a radius of less than 7000 kilometers orbiting a G-type star with a semi-major axis of at least 0.8 astronomical units
  • The End of the World will not come on December 21, 2012, or any other date this decade for that matter.  No rogue planets or galactic alignments will have even the slightest affect on us.

I'll bet your paycheck (Very likely but not guaranteed):

  • A new era of astronomy will open as at least three of the following five major observatories achieve first light: Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, James Webb Space Telescope, Giant Magellan Telescope, Thirty Meter Telescope, and the European Extremely Large Telescope.  I'll give even odds that four of the five will see first light, and a 1-in-4 chance of all five seeing first light in this decade.
  • Water and carbon dioxide will be detected in the atmosphere of a super-Earth planet in the habitable zone of its star.  Perhaps methane, too, but not free oxygen.
  • A gamma ray burst, a galaxy, and a quasar will be discovered with unambiguous redshifts > 10, and likely > 15.  Maybe this should be a no-brainer.

I'll bet a dollar (I think these will happen, but I could well be wrong):

  • Particle dark matter will be unambiguously detected in a laboratory experiment.  And, if it isn't, a lot of scientists will be much more open to considering alternative explanations (like a failure of general relativity).  Guaranteed Nobel Prize, but probably not for another decade or two.
  • One Nobel Prize in physics will be shared by the heads of the two teams that discovered dark energy.

  • Advanced LIGO will detect gravitational waves from some astronomical source.  Bonus points if we can determine what the source actually is.  Nobel Prize here as well, but not until the 2020s.

  • In my own field of white dwarfs, we confirm a conflict between the ages of white dwarf stars and the ages of normal stars in several old open and globular star clusters.   White dwarf astronomers assume the problem is with white dwarf ages but blame the problem on the ages of normal stars, while stellar modelers  blame white dwarfs while secretly believing their models are in error.
  • At least five press releases will be made announcing how the Earth will or will not survive the red giant phase of the sun.

I'm not betting (It would be cool if we found it, but I honestly don't think it will happen in the next decade):

  • Detection of a supernova in our own galaxy (or in the Andromeda Galaxy)
  • Humans landing on the Moon, Mars, near-Earth asteroid, or any other natural object besides the Earth.

  • Detection of life elsewhere in the Universe (including Mars but excluding microbes carried by spacecraft from Earth)
  • A hypothesis explaining dark energy as some sort of quantum gravity makes a testable prediction, and observations confirm that prediction.

1 comment:

  1. How about WISE discovering a red or brown dwarf closer to us than Proxima Centauri?

    See also via the BAUT (Bad Astronomy Universe Today) forum :


    What you think the odds are there? Bet your paycheck, my paycheck, a dollar or not at all? ;-)