With the holiday season now officially over, it's time to look ahead and see what's in store for the coming year. Here are io9's most anticipated scientific and technological developments of 2014!
Top image: The ESA's Rosetta lander. Credit: ESA.
If 2013 was any indication, the coming year will be an unkind one to HIV/AIDS. Back in March, doctors announced that a baby had been functionally cured of an HIV infection. Several weeks later the same thing was accomplished in 14 adults. The year also saw tremendous advancements in the development of a vaccine and a computer-designed 'drug' that prevents AIDS from replicating. It's unlikely that we'll cure HIV/AIDS in 2014, but antiretroviral therapy (ART) will continue to make life tolerable for those infected with the disease.
The previous year was witness to some remarkable advancements in additive manufacturing, including a 3D printed cybernetic ear that picks up radio frequencies outside the range of human hearing. Expect more of this in 2014, including 4D printing where objects "make themselves" by changing shape after they're printed. Also expect further progress in stem cell therapies (including trials conducted by Advanced Cell Technology involving the injection of stem-cell-derived retinal cells into the eyes of people with non-treatable degenerative blindness), gene therapies, and nano-devices implanted beneath the skin to stimulate muscles. In addition, we should also expect advancements in assistive devices, especially the thought-controlled exoskeleton and advanced prosthetics.
The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft will wake up later this month after nearly three years of hibernation. Its target: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta will reach its destination in August and, after a couple of months in a mapping orbit, it will deploy a spider-like lander called Philae on the surface in November.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the same group that said humans are the "dominant cause" of global warming — will present two key reports in 2014. Matt McGrath from the BBC explains:
The first, in March, will be on the impacts of rising temperatures, and the second, in April, will be on mitigation - how the world can limit or reduce the gases that are responsible for warming. The contents of these reports are likely to significantly impact the political response. World leaders have been asked to attend a summit convened by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in September. Mr Ban is expecting them to bring firm pledges of emissions cuts to the gathering. If that happens, then it may re-invigorate the slumbering UN body tasked with negotiating a global climate deal which faces substantial hurdles in getting agreement on the scale of emissions cuts and the finance to cope with climate damage. The hope, and I stress the word hope, is that when the negotiators gather in Paris towards the end of 2015, they will be finalising the details of a significant, legally binding agreement. But insiders say that won't happen unless everything is "pre-cooked" this year. Otherwise we will see "climate souffle" in Paris - sweet, well made, but ultimately full of hot air.
The book on particle physics is still far from written. New observations in 2014 could point to the existence of undiscovered heavy particles — insights that could help scientists patch up the sketchy and still-incomplete Standard Model of physics and further the speculative study of weak-scale Supersymmetry. The hunt for dark matter will also continue in 2014. The Large Underground Xenon experiment (LUX) is due to start another 300 day test run looking for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) — though let's hope they find something this time. And as New Scientist points out, the Higgs boson could reveal exotic physics in 2014 thanks to a new list of ways the subatomic particle could misbehave. There's also the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) positioned on the ISS — an instrument that's detecting electrons and their anti-matter counterparts known as positrons that may be showering deep space as dark matter particles annihilate each other.
Nature News says the cancer drugs to watch in 2014 are nivolumab and lambrolizumab, both of which work by blocking proteins that prevent a person's T cells from attacking tumours. Early tests proved positive, evoking a better response in patients than ipilimumab, a similar therapy launched in 2011.
David Dickinson from Universe Today reports:
A comet discovery back in 2013 created a brief stir when researchers noted that comet C/2013 A1 Siding Springs would make a very close passage of the planet Mars on October 19th, 2014.
Though refinements from subsequent observations have effectively ruled out the chance of impact, the comet will still pass 41,300 kilometres from the Red Planet, just outside the orbit of its outer moon Deimos. Ground-based observers will get to watch the +7th magnitude comet close in on Mars through October, as will a fleet of spacecraft both on and above the Martian surface.
The advanced version of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is scheduled to be fully operational in 2014. The new detector will be 10 times more sensitive than the original. LIGO scientists expect this new instrument to detect gravitational wave sources on an almost daily basis, allowing details of the waveforms to be compared with theories of neutron stars, black holes, and other highly relativistic objects.
NASA's MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) is scheduled to arrive on September 22nd, while India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) will reach Mars on September 24th.
This coming year will see the introduction of several exciting new space technologies, including the first flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space X Falcon Heavy rocket, the Sunjammer Space Sail (video above), and the ESA's Gaia Space Observatory.