Science | October 20, 2017 9:01 am

The Next Big Discoveries in Physics on the Horizon

Scieintists discovered gravitational waves more than century after Einstein's predictions.

There have been multiple breakthroughs over the past several years in the world of space and physics, but there is still plenty left to come. The Higgs boson was found in 2012, and gravitational waves were discovered at the LIGO detector this year, reports Popular MechanicsSo what’s next?

Supersymmetry

Supersymmetry is a way to “fill in some gaps in the Standard Model of particle physics,” writes Popular Mechanics. The model predicts that particles don’t have mass, but we already know this to be false. The Higgs Boson proved that particles have mass, but things still don’t really add up. Popular Mechanics explains that one explanation would be that for each particle, there’s a mirror particle, which would have a “half-integer spin or a sort of tilt to the way the particle moves that makes it similar but hard to detect.” We have never seen this before and don’t encounter it in our day-t0-day.

Figuring out supersymmetry would help us figure out why gravity is so weak (gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces). It would also help explain why matter acts the way it does at higher energies, Popular Mechanics explains.

The Standard Model

According to Popular Mechanics, the standard model of physics just doesn’t work. A lot of the things we thought we figured out don’t really make sense now. Every test we do “seems to tell us our standard model is mostly right, but it shouldn’t be,” Popular Mechanics writes. This paradox must be fixed in order to truly “understand the universe.”

Dark Matter and Energy 

We only see about four percent of what’s necessary to make the universe expand as it does, Popular Mechanics explains, which means 68 percent of the universe is made up of dark energy. Dark energy is the force that’s expanding the universe. The other 26 percent is dark matter, which helps us understand how large objects push and pull one another.

There are currently two schools of though for what dark matter is: Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPS) or Massive Compact Halo Objects (MACHOS). There has been no strong evidence in favor of either.

History of the Universe

Though we think we know the basic facts about how the universe started, there is a pretty big gap of knowledge. Nearly 14 million years ago, the Big Bang happened, which was followed by rapid expansion and changes, reports Popular Mechanics. Galaxies were first a few hundred million years after that. But what happened during those hundred million years? Scientists call it the Epoch of Reionization. The universe appeared like a thick cloud for a long time, until galaxies “reionized” hydrogen into a transparent state, according to Popular Mechanics. 

Don’t worry, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to start looking into this secretive era. It will launch in 2019.

Exoplanet Atmospheres

There are thousands of exoplanets, but we don’t know much about them, or if they can support life. James Webb will also be able to look at these and figure out if they have an atmosphere, and what elements are present, reports Popular Mechanics. A NASA probe called Transiting Exoplanet Sky Survey (TESS) will also look at planets around larger stars to try and find planets more like Earth.

Last but not least: Aliens.

According to Popular Mechanics, “there’s never been a better time to find aliens.” Webb could potentially find habitable worlds. There is also a $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative that will be listening for alien signals over a 10-year-span.