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With technology advancing so rapidly we’re making big discoveries on a daily basis. What fascinating discovery would you like to hear about when you wake up tomorrow morning? Evidence of life on another planet or a moon, signs of bio-signatures on an exo-planet, reception of a signal from an intelligent life or maybe something completely different?
Andrew Rader (SpaceX engineer, MIT PhD, author)

Wow, those would all be good ones! However, in my view, the main point of searching for life on planets and moons in our solar system is to test the hypothesis “are we alone”? (Because we currently have one world with life, Earth, and a 1 out of 1 scientific result is meaningless due to the anthropic principle, but a 2/2 would be a big deal.) Thus, hearing directly from intelligent extraterrestrials would sort of cut to the chase and be an even bigger deal.

Paul Carr (Space Systems engineer at NASA, podcaster, blogger, investigator)

This one got me thinking. Any discovery that would be a real a paradigm breaker would not be one that I could predict, and I doubt even people much cleverer than I would either.

A couple of helpful quotes to keep in mind:
Clarke’s First Law: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
J.B.S. Haldane: “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

My own ability to predict future discoveries is probably even more limited than a distinguished but elderly scientist. We will probably need to rework our conceptual toolbox – our vocabulary, if you will – to even be able to recognize what is right in front of us. I am optimistic that this will happen, since it has happened before, such as when we realized that space and time weren’t absolute, or that the Earth was very ancient and not the center of the universe.

However, your question seems to be about discoveries we can predict, and for me the most important would be the confirmed discovery of life in our solar system (possibly even here on Earth) that we unambiguously do not share a common ancestor with. This “second genesis” would effectively nail down the fourth term in the Drake equation – it’s on the order of one, and implies that life is more or less a natural state of warm matter. This may well happen within my lifetime.

Erin Macdonald (Space Science Speaker, Educator, Consultant)

The near-term big discovery I’m looking forward to (now that we’ve got gravitational waves!) is evidence of life (current or past) in our own solar system. With further exploration of Mars (including underwater lakes) as well as future missions to Europa with a warm, seemingly salt-water ocean under the surface, I hope that we find evidence of even past microbial life on other planets. While all the discoveries in the last decade of exoplanets which may be able to support liquid water on their surface, we seem to have collectively made the assumption that there is other life out there, but we have to remember that we still don’t have any evidence of that. Once that discovery is made, I will be literally jumping for joy.

Brian Koberlein (astrophysicist and physics professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, author, podcaster, publisher)

Honestly, I’m really keen to see a black hole directly. If the rumors are true that should happen April 10. My dissertation was on black holes, and at the time we had no way to directly observe one. To finally see that happen would be really cool.

Bob Novella (co-founder and vice-president of New England Skeptical Society, co-host of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe)

Beyond all other discoveries, I would probably most enjoy waking up one morning to the news of signals from space from an extra-terrestrial civilization. This could minimally be just a “hello world” signal proving to us finally that these technologically advanced creatures are really out there. That would of course be the news of the century but it would also ultimately be quite frustrating since having a conversation given the distances involved would try anyone’s patience. Ideally, this discovery would take the form of what Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan described as an Encyclopedia Galactica: a cornucopia of detailed information about the aliens and their culture, science and technology, and surely many things that we can’t imagine or even comprehend.

A fascinating variation of this idea that I’ve often thought about involves the discovery of an extra-terrestrial cloaked satellite that has suddenly revealed itself in orbit around earth.
This satellite would have documented in detail the evolution of life on earth for hundreds of millions of years. Imagine having actual documentation of dinosaurs and proto-humans and countless other extinct life forms that we have never found fossils for.

Where we’re going we don’t need roads

It’s easy to make predictions for 1, 2 or 5 years into the future. Let’s go 50 years into the future to the year 2069. How will life on our planet change by that time? How about our presence in our Solar System? Will we have the technology to consider travelling to another star systems?
Nancy Atkinson (Editor at Universe Today, writer for Seeker and author of “Incredible Stories From Space” and “Apollo 11: Eight Years to the Moon” (coming out in July 2019))

What will the world look like in 50 years? It’s anyone’s guess, as the state of future technology is so hard to predict. I’m guessing we’ll continue our attachment to our phones and computers, so much so that somehow, they’ll become integrated into our clothing as wearables or maybe even our bodies in some fashion. I truly hope the “Star Trek” vision of the future is a possibility, where we can eliminate poverty and live in relative harmony on our planet. As far as space travel, I always have maintained that getting humans to Mars is always ten years off into the future, no matter where we are in time. Hopefully in 50 years, we’re at least closer to the perpetual 10-year plan, but I’m actually not too hopeful. I’m predicting robotic missions will only improve to the point where we’ll have live video feeds from around the Solar System, which might preclude the need for humans to take the risks of traveling in space. The big question mark is our planet’s environment. Do we have the political will, the fortitude and sufficient technological advances to make changes now that will ensure that the air, water and land will continue to sustain humanity into the future? The choice is ours.

Graham Lau (Astrobiologist and Communicator of Science (also known as “The Cosmobiologist”))

I once heard an expert in computer science expound that, while many of us could guess about what might be happening in the world in 5 years, even the best scientists and engineers would often be wrong when asked to guess where we’d be several decades out. That said, here are just a few of my guesses at potential trajectories for our civilization by 2069:

– We’re now seeing effects from anthropogenically-driven climate change happening faster than many of us had previously expected. Intensification of storms and increased variability in the weather will likely continue to be driven by climate. The world will likely continue to heat, even if many nations start making drastic changes to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. I think by 2069 that these things will have caused a lot more coastal erosion, property damage, dislocation of human populations, the extinction of amphibians and other at-risk species, and increased desertification in equatorial regions. However, I also think there may also be some positive to come from this as well. We may see new forests springing up, rapid speciation driven by organisms migrating into regions that were previously covered in ice most of the year, and increased vegetation coverage in Arctic regions. Along with the environmental costs and potential benefits of climate change, I think by 2069 we’ll see a lot more people globally accepting our role in the Earth system and we’ll see some of the earliest planet-wide efforts for humans to become better stewards of our biosphere.

– Although it would be nice to say that by 2069 we will have human colonies throughout the solar system and maybe even people travelling off to other stars, I don’t personally think this will be the case. I think by 2069, we will have seen the first human explorers on Mars and the beginnings of a Mars colony. I think we’ll have at least one colony on the Moon and many more people living, working, and even recreating in orbit of the Earth. But I think we’ll still be in the earliest steps of exploring our solar system and still preparing for our greater future in space. I think we’ll have sent spacecraft to land on Titan, Europa, and Enceladus by 2069; we’ll have landers operating in the high temperature and pressure environment of Venus; and I think we’ll have sent out at least one, but maybe several, robotic spacecraft intended to explore interstellar space and travel to the nearest star systems to relay data back to us.

– I think by 2069, we’ll have made positive confirmation of signs of life within the atmospheric biosignatures of exoplanets. We currently know of almost 4,000 confirmed exoplanets. By 2069, that number will likely have grown to well over 100,000. Although it is possible that we’re the only show in town, I personally believe that life must be more common in the universe. I think our explorations of the atmospheres of exoplanets has the greatest potential for revealing signs of extraterrestrial life in the coming decades. I think these detections will rapidly change how we view ourselves in the universe and has great implications for advancements in science, technology, philosophy, theology, art, and other facets of human life and culture.

– Medical science has been making amazing advancements over the previous decades and I think the future holds more of the same. By 2069, I think we’ll see genetic medicine, where you walk into a physician’s office, they run your genotype and check your current gene expression and proteins and metabolites, and then recommend a medicine that is tailored directly to you. I think we’ll also see the earliest large steps in advanced human longevity. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see life expectancies jump to 120-150 years for people living in developed nations by 2069. However, I don’t believe that we’ll have yet seen the “singularity” or the advent of an actual “transhuman” by that time. -A final note, a recent issue of the journal Futures has just been released that considers the future trajectory of our species within the context of astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life. All of the papers within this special issue are currently available for free (until April, 2019). You can find more information about the issue and links to each chapter here: https://www.bmsis.org/detectability-of-future-earth/

Joe Lennox (Teacher of space science, history and technology and former President of The New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame)

I believe that in 50 years we will have a base on the Moon and another n Mars. I think we will have developed some type f nuclear rocket fuel that will allow us to reach the distant planets with probes / satellites as opposed to human curation. I think Hubble and it’s succeeding space telescopes will discover countless moons and planets and maybe even solar systems that we are not aware of today. I believe we will have a giant leap in medical technology and research due to space based stem cell research and space based 3 D printing. The benefits to humanity will be massive and life changing.

2018

It’s this time of year when we make predictions for the upcoming year. What should we look for in the year 2018? What event or mission will be on everyone’s lips?
Seth Shostak (Senior Astronomer and Director of the Center for SETI Research at SETI Institute)

Discovery of a new, big planet in the outer solar system.

Paul Carr (Space Systems engineer at NASA, podcaster, blogger, investigator)

The first thing should be the launch of the Falcon Heavy. We don’t yet know how important a launch vehicle the Heavy will be, but stay tuned for a wonderful spectacle as multiple boosters return to the launch site at once.

The planned launch of TESS is probably the biggest item on my list. It will take a few months to settle into the science, but towards the end of 2018 TESS should start delivering a much better census of planets, especially Earths and Super Earths that are relatively near to us compared to Kepler’s discoveries. We might even find some Earth-like planets quite close by. Along with follow-up ground observations, this should push us truly into the golden age of exoplanet discoveries.

Another big event at about the same time as the TESS launch is the Gaia DR2 data release. I am especially hoping for much smaller error bars on the distance to Boyajian’s Star, which would help to constrain theories about what causes the slow dimming ad brightening episodes we observe.

Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

There are a couple of big missions coming from SpaceX that I think will keep people on their toes. The first, of course is the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket, which has been delayed for several years now. This will bring serious heavy lift capability to SpaceX, which has only been possible from the traditional launch providers. In addition, SpaceX is expected to launch a couple of space tourists on circumlunar trajectory on board a Dragon capsule This will be the first time humans have gone beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo era. Of course, SpaceX timelines will likely slip, so it’s entirely possible that these predictions will be totally wrong.

In terms of astronomy, I think the result I’m most excited about will be the first pictures from the Event Horizon Telescope, which gathered data back in April 2017. To think that we’ll see an image of the region around a black hole is mind boggling.

Of course, the biggest things will be the unexpected. 2017 surprised us, and I’m sure 2018 will surprise us too.

Nancy Atkinson (Senior Editor for Universe Today, Host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast & a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador)

Although I’m a big fan of every “branch” of space exploration, I’m especially interested in planetary exploration (and that’s why I wrote a book about it!) There are several big planetary events coming up in 2018 and I’m looking forward to all of them. The InSight seismology probe is scheduled to launch to Mars in May, and land later this year. There are two asteroid sample missions that will arrive at their destinations this year: OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in August, and Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to reach Ryugu in July. Also, ESA and JAXA are teaming up to launch BepiColombo to Mercury in October (arriving in 2025). China is expected to launch the Chang’e 4 lander/rover sometime this year to land on the moon’s far side.

Of course, all the current planetary missions will continue to awe and amaze us: Juno is telling us more about Jupiter while sending back incredible images; the two Mars rovers carry on with their journeys across the surface of the Red Planet, Dawn is still orbiting Ceres, and at the end of the year, New Horizons will be approaching its next target, an intruging Kuiper Belt Object. So, there will be no shortage of exciting planetary science news to cover in 2018!