I know it’s the 2nd, but it seems like a good time to have a look around and try and predict what might happen in the next year (which will all be wrong).
From a local perspective, it’s going to be a busy year for the Sky at Night. On April 24th 1957 the first program was broadcast and it (and Patrick) have been going strong ever since. Most of our effort at the minute is going into the April program (frustratingly, on April 2nd rather than April 1st) which is going to be very…different (but not too different). Despite big plans, this blog will continue to limp from late update to late update, and increased Bang! activity will ensure that most posts are plugs.
In the rest of the solar system, I’m looking forward to a further flood of images from Mars, particularly from the Hi-RISE camera on MRO, and I predict that both Spirit and Opportunity will be going strong at the end of the year. Opportunity might well be stuck in the bottom of Victoria Crater, but there’s plenty down there to keep everyone busy for a while. There is much more data arriving than can be analysed at the minute – perhaps Mars scientists developed a hoarding mentality during the long gap between Viking in the 1970s and more recent missions. Phoenix should be launched to join the fleet toward the end of the year too.
Cassini at Saturn will continue to produce incredible results; all but one of the close flybys is of Titan, where I expect at least one press release to announce the discovery of lakes (again). There’s also a close flyby of Iapetus to look forward to in September.
So much for planetary science. The results from Gravity Probe B – which was supposed to test the theory of relativity to an unprecedented accuracy – are expected in April. This could be the biggest story for years, but given the lack of any gossip about the results I predict that Einstein will pass yet another test. Speaking of fundamental physics, the Large Hadron Collider will finally begin operation, although it will not become the most powerful accelerator until well into 2007.
It should take a few years for enough ‘events’ to accumulate at the LHC in order for discoveries to be made, so I predict that by the end of 2007 we’ll still have no idea what the mysterious dark matter might be. I don’t expect much progress towards understanding ‘dark energy’ either, and solving these two problems are going to be top of the wish list for Christmas next year.
I think we may have got one of the other things on the list though. I suspect COROT, which was launched just the other day will have discovered at least one rocky planet in an Earth-like orbit. It’s going to stare at individual patches of sky for five months at a time, and I have a hunch that Earths might end up being rather common, so I expect one in the first bunch of stars. As I said before, though, the data analysis is the hard part.
Some time soon, though, Spanish scientists should have an amazing present in the form of the world’s largest single telescope, the Gran Telescopio Canarias, which (according to its webpage) was due for first light in 2006 (but hasn’t got there yet). Here’s to many discoveries for it and everyone else in 2007…and lots of things we don’t expect.