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2016: Could this be the year the Universe gives up its secrets?

Simon Cotton, senior lecturer in Chemistry University of Birmingham took part in a special panel looking at the most likely breakthroughs in the next 12 months

The Large Hadron Collider(Image: Pic: CERN/PA Wire)

Alien planets, a new model of the Universe, or even the existence of a Bigfoot could be conclusively proved in 2016, according to one Birmingham scientist.

Simon Cotton, senior lecturer in Chemistry University of Birmingham took part in a special panel looking at the most likely breakthroughs in the next 12 months.

And some of the potential scientific steps forward have the potential to change the way people live and permanently alter our understanding of the universe.

The panel came up with several mysteries to be solved...

* The first involves Europe’s Large Hadron Collider at Cern , which already has a University of Birmingham team working on it.

This year could finally see the experiment that reveals what’s beyond the ‘standard model’ of physics.

The panel, including Dr Cotton, said: “The Large Hadron Collider has already ticked one thing off the list with the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012. In 2015, the LHC began Run 2 after a couple of years of upgrades, now smashing protons together at almost double the previous energy. This month, the first experiments revealed a hint of a new particle.

“This could be the sign of ‘super symmetry’, a theory which proposes there is a heavier super-partner for every particle in the standard model. Super symmetry is important as it could explain many fundamental mysteries of physics, such as what dark matter is or the way the laws of physics appear fine tuned to produce the world around us.

“However, the new particle could also be a sign of hidden dimensions, a second Higgs boson or – before we get too excited – a false alarm.”

Dark matter is a mystery of the universe which has never been directly observed.

The panel said: “Until we can make a more direct measurement of it, we won’t know for sure what it is and how it fits in with the standard model of particle physics.

“Dedicated experiments such as the Large Underground Xenon experiment (LUX) are reaching new levels of precision as they are trying to directly detect a dark matter candidate known as the “weakly interacting massive particle” as it interacts with ordinary matter on Earth. So 2016 could be the year we finally see this mysterious stuff in the lab.”

Simon Cotton, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at University of Birmingham(Image: University of Birmingham)

* The University of Birmingham is also leading research into gravitational waves – first predicted by Einstein in his theory of relativity.

They have never been observed because they are so weak and hard to detect.

The observation of these ‘ripples of space-time’ requires exquisitely sophisticated new technology. Birmingham physicists have designed and built components for the most sensitive instruments in the world called Advanced LIGO, and developed the techniques essential to tease out the signatures of gravitational waves from the data.

Frozen Sea on Mars 'may harbour life'(Image: European Space Agency/PA Wire)

* Finding life on Mars, or elsewhere, is something which would transform our view of the universe.

The panel believes that the key is water: “On Earth, wherever we find water – whether in the middle of a desert or in hydrothermal vents in the depths of the ocean – we find life.

“So, it follows that water on another planet means the potential for life there as well.

“Recent explorations of Mars have dramatically developed our understanding of the planet, showing that it had a watery past and, more recently, that it has flowing salty water.

“Alongside the study of Mars, the Juno probe will study how much water there is on Jupiter.

“Another of our best bets for finding life may be Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. It has an icy crust but was recently found to have geysers spouting water vapour, making it one of the more likely places in the solar system outside Earth to contain life.”

* Finally, the panel believes advances in drone technology mean some of the mysteries of old could be solved – including whether a so-called Yeti or Bigfoot exists.

It said: “Advances in technology mean it is now possible to more carefully seek out rumoured or never-before-discovered animals.

“Camera traps are increasingly being used in wildlife studies to monitor rare or elusive animals such as the Amur leopard that was documented in China for the first time in 62 years. Drones are also increasingly being used in wildlife studies to survey inaccessible areas from the sky. These could be flown above a likely habitat of Bigfoot or any suspected animal in the hope that we would capture something on camera.”

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