On December 17th, the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS telescope will blast into space to take a closer look at some of the potentially habitable planets we’ve found beyond our solar system. Ahead of its launch, Horizon takes an in-depth look at what we already know about such exoplanets and what’s still to learn. We speak to Dr Michaël Gillon, who in 2017 was instrumental in discovering a system of seven Earth-like planets outside our solar system, about the diversity of the thousands of exoplanets we’ve found so far and next steps for research. We talk to scientists who are trying to understand the structure of Super-Earths – planets up to 10 times the size of Earth – by recreating elements of planetary cores in their labs, and others who are trying to understand how different planetary systems formed in the first place. Finally, we delve into one of the most important conditions for life to exist on exoplanets – their atmospheres – and find out how scientists are trying detect the biosignature gases that indicate the presence of life.
Rocky planets larger than our own, so-called super-Earths, are surprisingly abundant in our Galaxy, and stand as the most likely planets to be habitable. Getting a better idea of their interior structures will help predict whether different planets are able to generate magnetic fields – thought to be conducive for life to survive.
From the first discoveries of planets beyond our solar system in the 1990s, we now know of thousands of alien worlds, some of which could even be habitable to life as we know it. Now we need to detect more of these exoplanets and study them in detail, says astronomer Dr Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège in Belgium, who was involved in one of the most important exoplanet discoveries to date.
All over the world, bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making infections more difficult – and in some cases impossible – to treat. It’s one of today’s biggest public health challenges and this month Horizon examines how scientists are working to overcome this growing issue. We speak to microbiologist Dr Nassos Typas about how we got here, what causes resistance to antibiotics and the different approaches being explored to combat resistance. We look at renewed efforts to find new antibiotics and ask whether it’s possible to reverse antibiotic resistance. And with dairy being a huge food source and also an antibiotic-intensive industry, we speak to scientists who are developing alternative therapies for treating cows for mastitis as a way of curbing antibiotics from coursing through our food chain.
The next decade sees Europe facing some urgent challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss and feeding a growing population, to name but a few. At the same time, technology is developing apace, presenting both opportunities for novel solutions and worries about how to ensure it’s used for good. In September, as plans for the EU’s next research funding programme start to crystallise, we take a look at some of the pressing issues facing Europe and how the next research agenda should be designed to best serve people and planet. We will also be covering the EU’s Research and Innovation Days event at the end of the month, where policymakers, academics, business people and civil society organisations will gather to finalise priorities for Horizon Europe, the EU’s €100 billion research programme which runs from 2021 to 2027.
As our world becomes more digitalised and connected, we can actually make a virtual copy of it. And such replicas are now being used to improve real world scenarios, from making aircraft production more accurate to preventing oil spills.
Consciousness – the awareness we have of our self and surroundings – is often referred to as ‘the hard problem’. It’s not easy to scientifically explain how a subjective experience, which is something intangible, can be created by the brain – a physical object. But understanding more about how consciousness works could help us find treatments when things go wrong.
Virtual simulations can also help build aeroplane wings more efficiently.
Understanding consciousness in healthy people could help when things go wrong.
Dr Michaël Gillon on what's next for exoplanet science.