Launch of the European ATHENA X-ray observatory
The Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (ATHENA) is a major new X-ray telescope launched by the European Space Agency.** This L-class (Large) project is the second of three missions in the "Cosmic Vision" programme which includes two other spacecraft – the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) launched in 2022 and a gravitational wave observatory being deployed in 2034.
X-ray observations are crucial for understanding the structure and evolution of stars, galaxies and the Universe as a whole. These images can reveal "hot spots" in the Universe – regions where particles have been energised or raised to very high temperatures by strong magnetic fields, violent explosions, and intense gravitational forces. X-ray sources are also associated with the different phases of stellar evolution such as supernova remnants, neutron stars and black holes.
ATHENA is designed to answer a number of important questions in astrophysics:
• What happens close to a black hole?
• How did supermassive black holes grow?
• How do large-scale structures (i.e. galaxy clusters and superclusters) form?
• What is the connection between these processes?
To address these questions, it can trace orbits close to the event horizon of black holes, measure black hole spin for several hundred active galactic nuclei (AGN), use spectroscopy to characterise the outflows and environments of AGN at their peak activity, look for supermassive black holes out to redshift z = 10, map the bulk motions and turbulence in galaxy clusters, find missing baryons in the cosmic web using background quasars, and observe the process of cosmic feedback where black holes inject energy on galactic and intergalactic scales.
This enables astronomers to understand better the history and evolution of matter and energy – visible and dark – as well as their interplay during the formation of the largest structures in the Universe. Closer to home, observations constrain the equation of state in neutron stars, black hole spin demographics, when and how elements were created and dispersed into the intergalactic medium, and much more.
To achieve these goals, ATHENA requires a collecting area of 3 square metres with 5 arcsec angular resolution and 12 metre focal length, for unmatched sensitivities. Relative to previous X-ray missions, it offers a 100-fold increase in the area for high resolution spectroscopy, deep spectral and microsecond spectroscopic timing with high count rate capability. It also features a large shield that blocks light from the Sun, Earth and Moon, which otherwise would heat up the telescope and interfere with observations. The telescope remains operational until the late 2030s.
China builds the world's largest particle accelerator
Following the success of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe,* the Chinese decided to build their own larger particle accelerator. Researchers at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing announced plans for a machine 52 km (32.5 mi) in length – twice the circumference of the LHC. This would allow the Higgs boson to be studied in greater detail, revealing new insights into the fundamental structure of matter and confirming whether multiple types of Higgs boson existed. Construction began in 2019, with completion in 2028.* It paves the way for an even larger project in 2035.**
International Space Station is decommissioned
International Space Station was constructed from 1998 to 2014. Its operational
lifetime was originally planned to be until 2020, but with extra funding
was extended to 2028. This date was chosen to mark the 30th anniversary
of the first Russian component to be launched. Like its
predecessor – Space Station Mir – it is ditched in the Pacific Ocean. Some modules
of the Russian Orbital Segment are salvaged before the de-orbiting takes
place. These are used as the basis for a new station, known as the Orbital
Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex.*
electronics are ubiquitous
printed electronics market has seen exponential growth. By now, it has
ballooned to over $300 bn globally.* This technology
began with a small number of niche, high-end products. It expanded rapidly
in the 2010s, thanks to plummeting costs and improved production methods.
By the 2020s it had exploded into the mainstream – creating a new generation of ultra-thin electronics.
these have such low fabrication costs that they are ubiquitous in countless everyday business and consumer applications.* Many
previously bulky or heavy devices can now be folded, stored or carried
as easily as sheets of paper. This includes flexible TV displays that
can be rolled or hung like posters. Also widespread are electronic
newspapers with moving pictures, "smart"
packaging and labels with animated text, along with signage in retail outlets that
can be updated shop-wide at the touch of a button.*
players with expandable, fold-out touchscreens are especially popular.
Even low-end models are now the size and weight of credit cards and
can easily fit inside a wallet. With petabytes of storage, gigapixels
of screen resolution and superfast transfer speeds, they are orders
of magnitude more powerful than iPods of the previous decade. They are also
completely wireless – no cables or physical connections of any kind
are required, with music being enjoyed using wireless earphones.
Credit: University of Cincinnati
population reaches 70 million
will soon become the most populous country in Europe, overtaking both
Germany and France. This is mainly due to vast numbers of immigrants.
Combined with a shrinking labour force, this is putting a huge strain on public services – especially in London, which has born the
brunt of the increase.
for National Statistics
fighter planes are being phased out and replaced with UAVs
date, the A-10 Thunderbolt II has been replaced completely by the F-35
Lightning II – which itself becomes one of the last remaining manned
fighter planes in the US military. The F-35 will remain in operation
until the 2040s, eventually being replaced
by a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) controlled by
can regrow lost limbs
becoming available that can stimulate human cells to regrow limbs.* By switching off a specific gene known as P21, adult mammalian cells
can be induced to behave like regenerative embryonic stem cells.* Treatments
are applied transiently during the healing process and only locally
at the wound site, minimising any side effects.
Resurrection of several extinct species has been achieved
In 2009, the Pyrenean Ibex became the first animal to ever be made "un-extinct", for seven minutes, when a cloned female was born alive before dying from lung defects.* This was eventually followed by a woolly mammoth, using tissue samples from ancient permafrost.* By the late 2020s,* a number of other species have been resurrected (with varying degrees of success) including the famous dodo – last observed in 1662 – and the wild pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, which went from being one of the world's most common birds during the 19th century, to extinction in the early 20th.
Three different approaches have been taken to restore lost animals and plants:
- Cloning, in which genetic material is extracted from preserved tissue to create an exact modern copy.
- Selective breeding, where a closely-related modern species is given characteristics of the extinct relative.
- Genetic engineering, where DNA of a modern species is edited until it closely matches the extinct species.
Ethical and legal issues are now emerging, however, such as the effect of these "alien" species on modern ecosystems and the possibility of diseases. With genetics advancing at such a rapid rate, even hominids like neanderthals could potentially be brought back. Further into the future, de-extinction of lost species will become a vital part of restoring the Earth's biosphere, as a global rewilding effort takes shape.