The 2000s left us feeling battered, but the 2010s are looking awesome. Thanks to recent scientific research and an explosion of cultural interest in science fiction, there are at least 15 brilliant reasons to stick around for another decade.

Image by Dan Lydersen.

15. Lost returns
Sure, it may not last for the entire decade, but you can start the 'tens right by feeding your confused and delighted brain with the conclusion to JJ Abrams' time-twisting tale of an island that ripped the fabric of space-time. Lost returns Feb. 2 to begin its sixth and final season.

14. Molecular machines
As nanotechnology emerges from science fiction into the laboratory, one of the most promising nanotech applications is the molecular motor - an engineered molecule that can do anything from deliver a payload of medicine to a hard-to-reach part of the body, to crawl up your DNA to repair damage. Molecular motors might serve as cellular "prosthetics," attaching to cells to augment their functioning (yes, you can overclock your cells). We're pretty far from having replicators, but we may have ultra-tiny robots that can zoom through our blood and fix us up far more elegantly than the surgeon's knife ever could.

13. Ridley Scott returns to scifi.
He peeled the top layer off our brains and eyeballs with scifi flicks Alien and Blade Runner, and then went on to make dramas without any spaceships or dystopian future cities in them. At last one of science fiction's greatest cinematic auteurs has pledged to make the 'tens the decade when he returns to the genre. He's got movie versions of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in the works, as well as a prequel to Alien. Knowing these films are coming from Scott is going to keep us on the edge of our (movie theater) seats for the next ten years.

(image via Pana Stamos)

12. A follow-up to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
With her brilliant literary fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke changed both fantasy writing and what was considered acceptable in literary circles. She took a novel scientific-historical approach to her story of two magicians who become involved in politics and warfare in England during the Napoleonic Wars. Fans have been waiting for a sequel to the novel for quite a while, and insiders at Clarke's publishing house says she's definitely under contract to write one - supposedly a sequel set in the Middle East and Asia - but there's no deadline for this author who might take up to 10 years to write a novel. Let's assume optimistically that she's already been working on it for a couple of years - that means sometime in the 'tens we'll get to plunge into another of Clarke's amazing tales of magic and geopolitical history.

11. A much-needed population dropoff is imminent.
The US Census recently released its projections for global population expansion and decline over the next few decades. Although the population is growing, its rate of growth is entering a steep decline. Next decade may be the beginning of the end of the population explosion, which is good news for everyone - especially people who will be living on the planet 100 years from now.

10. Green development.
Over the next decade, we'll start to see results from programs designed to foster green development, like Google's major alternative energy initiative RE<C or the US Department of Energy's investments in green resources. Electric cars could come to dominate the roads, and eco-friendly urban developments (like China's delayed Dongtan) could start opening their doors to residents. What happens when old energy is challenged by new energy? Live through the 'tens and you just might find out.

(image via yellow_bird)

9. Dubai skyline.
Pretty much every major construction project and architectural wonder is being planned for the insta-city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. The world's tallest building, the world's roundest building, and the world's most elaborate human-engineered islands are all part of Dubai's future skyline and footprint. Though the Dubai government's investment wing, Dubai World, is suffering a debt crisis, there is still ample time for it to be resolved with a bailout - and many of the region's biggest projects (like world's tallest building Burj Dubai) have continued despite financial setbacks. We can't wait to see what the future looks like in the Middle East's most cosmopolitan region.

8. Joss Whedon conquers the web
After the disasters of Dollhouse and Firefly last decade, Joss Whedon has sworn off television and pledged to take his dark SF/fantasy visions direct to the web. He's already won our hearts with his first web series, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog. As web series grow in legitimacy, and most people turn to their monitors to watch TV, we anticipate that this may be the smartest move Whedon has ever made. We can't wait to set our phasers to interweb and watch the next thing Whedon's imagination will spawn.

(image via Grrrod)

7. Alastair Reynolds' 10 books in 10 years for Orbit.
A master of smart, intriguing space operas like Revelation Space, Reynolds has become over the past decade one of the most sought-after science fiction writers in the genre. UK publisher Orbit acknowledged his stature by offering the author an unprecedented book deal: £1 million to write 10 books over the next decade - approximately one per year. Reynolds is starting with what he calls an "African inflected" trilogy about how humanity will finally get offworld and start colonizing space.

6. Steven Moffat takes over Doctor Who
Writer of some of the new Doctor Who's strongest episodes, such as "The Empty Child" and "Blink," Moffat is also known for creating the BBC series Jekyll, which wowed critics and viewers with its intense reimagining of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Now that showrunner Russell T. Davies has stepped down, Moffat is taking over running Doctor Who starting in 2010 with the new series' fifth season. Saying that we can't wait is a major understatement.

5. Exploring the asteroid belt with Dawn satellite.
Launched in 2007, the Dawn satellite is due to rendezvous with the large Vesta asteroids and with Ceres, the largest planetoid in the asteroid belt. Researchers believe that these asteroids will be packed with metals like nickel as well as ice. If we ever hope to send missions to the outer planets like Jupiter and Saturn (home to Titan, a moon that might support life), we're going to need a stop-off point with a rich natural store of water (a source of oxygen, among other things) as well as metals. This mission, the first to examine the Vestas and Ceres up close, could help establish the asteroid belt as a massive rest stop for travelers in our solar system.

4. Synthetic life.
Last decade, genome warlord Craig Venter promised - and nearly delivered - an entirely synthetic bacterium, with DNA made from scratch (well, from polymers) in the lab. Meanwhile synthetic biology pioneers like Drew Endy have worked to make the tools of genetic engineering available to everyone who wants to experiment with DNA. Researchers have created DNA-controlled counters and students invented bacteria that can locate buried landmines for the annual synthetic biology iGEM competition at MIT. In the 'tens, get ready for the first synthetic organism, quickly followed by the second through the twentieth. We probably won't be getting pigs with wings any time soon, but we could get bacteria that eat pollution in the ocean.

3. Space opera conquers movies.
With JJ Abrams working on two sequels to his rebooted Star Trek series, Pixar's Andrew Stanton (director of Wall-E) doing his John Carter of Mars movie, James Cameron contemplating other movies set in the Avatar universe, and Duncan Jones (director of Moon) signed on to helm several other scifi projects (including two more movies set in the Moon universe), it looks like space opera might be the new awesomeness in cinema. Instead of mutants and zombies destroying the Earth, spaceships and tales of astropolitics will be expanding our minds. And that's something to look forward to.

2. Finding the Higgs boson particle.
The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is just getting started on the many physics experiments scheduled to zoom through its long underground tunnels. By far the most widely-anticipated experiment will (hopefully) reveal the elusive Higgs boson, a particle that scientists believe is responsible for giving mass to every object in the universe. Isolating the Higgs boson could help us understand where mass comes from, and why some particles (like photons) are massless. If discovery is the first step towards mastery, then who knows where the Higgs boson could take us?

1. The Mars Science Laboratory
Set to launch in 2011 and land on Mars in 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory is NASA's latest effort to explore whether life like ours ever existed on Mars - and could be supported there again. The Laboratory is a robot rover called Curiosity, and is like a much larger and more sophisticated version of the two Martian rovers Spirit and Opportunity. According to NASA:

The rover will analyze dozens of samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" — in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past.

So why get so excited about another Martian rover? Because what Curiosity discovers will help bring us closer to establishing a Martian base which could one day become the foundation for a thriving Martian civilization. And that's the kind of future that we live for.