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Our Top 13 Predictions For Science in 2018


The world of science is unpredictable and ever-changing, but as a team that writes about science day in, day out, we can’t help but notice certain trends in research.

So this year – which also happens to be ScienceAlert’s 10th anniversary – we thought we’d try our hand at predicting some of the big science news of 2018 before they happen for once. You know, just so we can tell you we told you so later.

 

Most of these are based on well-established science, a few are wildly speculative, and some are just blatantly obvious. Don’t email us if any of them don’t come true.

1. The number of confirmed exoplanets discovered by Kepler will skyrocket now that Google’s artificial intelligence is involved

We’re currently sitting at 2,341, and we predict that number could hit 4,000 by the end of 2018. One thing’s certain, whatever they discover, we’ll definitely hear about it in a very big, important press conference.

2. We’ll finally figure out what the hell’s causing all those fast radio bursts

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) can generate as much energy as 500 million Suns in mere milliseconds and could be occurring every single second – but we still have very little insight into what’s causing these crazy powerful explosions in our Universe.

This year, researchers managed to pinpoint the location of repeated FRBs, a small galaxy known as FRB 121102. 

We’ve now detected more than 150 fast radio bursts coming from FRB 121102, and have new tools to study them in more detail.

 

So it’s not unreasonable to think that in 2018, we might finally have enough data to figure out what’s causing them. And while it’s probably not going to be aliens, you’re not the only one thinking that

3. 2018 will be the hottest year on record… again

This one doesn’t require much imagination. In fact, with 2013 to 2017 officially the warmest five-year period on record, and each new year seeming to smash new records, it would be a surprise if 2018 wasn’t the warmest year to date.

4. China and India will continue to establish themselves as the future of space travel, but no one will really notice

Yes, there’s a reusable rocket race going on between Blue Origin and SpaceX. But on the other side of the world, India and China are priming themselves as new space powers with big success in 2017 and grand plans for 2018. 

This year, India launched and retrieved a mini space rocket for the first time, put a record-breaking 104 satellites into orbit in just 18 minutes, and announced plans to land on the Moon in 2018. Let’s not forget that time they put a spacecraft into Mars’s orbit for less money than it cost to make the film Gravity.

 

China did make headlines after losing control of one of its old space stations, but what you might not have read about is the country’s plans for a reusable spaceplane, its dark matter probe, or its plans to land a probe on the far side of the Moon in 2018.

Just sayin’, space has no borders.

5. Elon Musk will do something, and everyone will immediately freak out about it

The visionary entrepreneur had a big year in 2017, with his record-breaking South Australian Powerwall array, releasing plans for his new boring company, and continuing to figure out how to send humans to Mars.

But he also has time to keep his many fans up to date on Twitter, and respond to the occasional tweet from the Flat Earth Society

Chances are, Musk will do something cool in 2018. And you’re bound to hear about it. You heard it here first.

6. We’ll still have no idea what’s going on with Tabby’s star

Is it a comet swarm? Dyson sphere? A wobbly planetary orbit? We have no clue and no one seems to have a good plan for how we can figure it out other than watch and wait, so… (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

7. Pretty much everything will be linked to gut bacteria

If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that we’re more gut bacteria than human. Everything from depression and strokes to Parkinson’s and even our emotions were linked to gut bacteria in 2017, and we don’t expect that trend to stop any time soon.

 

Unfortunately there’s not yet much you can do with that information, except start considering the poosibility of putting someone else’s faecal matter into your rectum (or swallow it in a capsule). You can’t stop progress.

8. Illicit drugs will start to be taken seriously as treatments against depression, because we’re pretty much out of other options

Early studies indicate that drugs such as ketamine and magic mushrooms could have incredible potential for treating depression and anxiety. The only problem is, they’re also pretty much illegal.

But seeing as the last breakthrough in antidepressants happened in the 1980s, the research community really has little choice other than to get on board. 

9. We’ll finally get some kind of basic treatment option for period pain… right?

Okay, this one is wishful thinking. But after decades of researchers pretty much ignoring period pain, the agonising monthly experience millions of women suffer through is finally getting some attention.

Last year, John Guillebaud, a professor of reproductive health at University College London, told Quartz that period pain can be as “bad as having a heart attack” but has been overlooked because “men don’t get it”.

Since then, a couple of studies on the mechanisms behind heavy and painful periods have come out. We’re just going to be starry-eyed optimists and assume that some much-needed treatment options will follow.

10. You’ll hear more about how amazing graphene is, but it’s still not commercially viable

We’re not knocking graphene, here – we clearly love the stuff. But can someone please find a way to make it cheaply en masse so we can start seeing some of the awesome superconducting, bullet-stopping, limitless energy properties put into action? Please?

11. Black holes are going to blow your tiny minds all over again

Black holes are already awesome, but in 2018 we predict they’re going to get even more freaking amazing. Not only might we get our very first IRL image of a black hole’s event horizon (😱), but we’re fairly certain LIGO is going to detect gravitational waves from even more black hole mergers, and it’s only a matter of time before those tell us something mind-blowing. You’ve been warned.

12. The Large Hadron Collider will find tantilising hints of a particle that could bend the laws of physics

I feel like we’ve heard this one before

13. Everyone’s going off the grid because we’ve all had enough of this fossil fuel sh*t

Kidding, this probably won’t happen. But it should. We have Tesla Powerwalls and cheap solar panels, what are we waiting for?

Bring on the new year, science fans.

 



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