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2024 timeline contents




The PLATO observatory is operational

PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) was selected as the third medium-sized (M) mission in the European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme (the others being "Solar Orbiter" launched in 2017 and the Euclid Space Telescope launched in 2020). This observatory would include a payload of 34 separate telescopes and cameras, each comprised of four CCDs at 4500 x 4500 pixels resolution. It would scan up to a million stars, looking for truly Earth-like planets in sufficient detail to examine their atmospheres for signs of life.* In operation from 2024 until 2030,* at Earth-Sun Lagrangian point L2, the mission has the following objectives:

• Discover and characterise a large number of close-by exoplanetary systems, with a precision in the determination of the planet mass up to 10%, of planet radius of up to 2%, and of stellar age up to 10%.
• Detect Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone around solar-type stars
• Detect super-Earths in the habitable zone around solar-type stars
• Measure solar oscillations in the host stars of exoplanets
• Measure oscillations of classical pulsators

PLATO is aided by data from the Gaia mission launched in 2013, which provides many useful targets for subsequent follow-up observations.


esa plato observatory 2024 2030
Credit: ESA




The biggest refugee crisis in world history

Torrential flooding in southeast Asia – produced by a combination of rising sea levels, melting glaciers and extreme weather events – is creating the biggest refugee crisis in world history. Bangladesh and neighbouring regions are seeing literally tens of millions of men, women and children displaced from their homes.*

This unfolding horror is the worst environmental crisis of the 21st century so far. Although various different countries are affected, the disaster is centred on Bangladesh with its high density and population (150 million), situated in the low-lying Ganges River delta. With most of the country just a few metres above sea level, combined with a flat topography, storm surges are flooding huge areas of land with almost no hope of recovery. As well as the physical damage to infrastructure, salt in the ground means that fields up to 40 km from the new coastline are rendered useless for growing crops.*

Many thousands drown, while others die in the subsequent looting and chaos that sweeps the nation. With so many refugees attempting to flee the region, conflicts begin to erupt along the borders with India and Burma. The sheer scale of this catastrophe makes it difficult to coordinate relief efforts, and relatively speaking, only token assistance can be offered by the UN.


bangladesh future flooding sea level climate change global warming 2020 2025
Credit: NASA



Gay marriage is legal in every US state

The movement to obtain marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples in the USA began in the early 1970s. The issue became even more prominent in the 1990s, with Congress' passing of the Defense of Marriage Act. In the 21st century, public support grew considerably. By 2011, same-sex marriages had been granted by six of the 50 states, the federal district, and one Indian tribe. By 2015, the number of Americans opposing gay marriage was significantly exceeded by those in support.* This progress continued over the next decade, with a growing majority of states declaring same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional. By the 2020s, even the southern "Bible Belt" states had begun to overturn the ban, Mississippi becoming the last to do so.*


gay marriage trends graph legalised 2020 2025 2020s



African elephants are going extinct in the wild

Despite efforts to curtail the ivory trade, vast numbers of elephants continued to be poached throughout Africa. Their population – which stood at 600,000 in 2009 – declined by nearly 40,000 each year.* They are now on the verge of extinction, with few reported sightings in the wild. Zoos and parks are working to maintain a viable population for future rewilding.


african elephants extinction threat 2020 2024 2025 future
© Paul Hampton | Dreamstime.com



Open-source, 3D printed clothes at near-zero cost

3D printing – having emerged as a mainstream consumer technology – is now so cheap, fast and easy to use that it can produce items of clothing for just a few cents.* A milestone was passed in 2014 when 3D printing became faster than injection moulding.* The speed of printing continued to increase, doubling every two years in a trend similar to Moore's Law. By 2024, it is over 30 times faster, so an item which took four hours to print in 2014 now takes just seven and a half minutes.* Millions of open-source designs are available to download. Sweatshops in the developing world are declining as a side effect, with low-paid factory jobs made increasingly obsolete.


3d printed clothes future



Completion of the Square Kilometre Array

Our view of the universe is greatly expanded with the completion of a major new observatory.* This radio telescope has a total collecting area of approximately one kilometre. It operates over a wide range of frequencies and its size makes it 50 times more sensitive than any other radio instrument. By utilising advanced processing technology, it can survey the sky more than 10,000 times faster than ever before. With stations extending to a distance of 3,000 km from a concentrated central core, it continues radio astronomy's tradition of providing the highest resolution images in all of astronomy.


Click to enlarge

square kilometre array 2020 2024 2025 astronomy telescope
Image used with permission from Jo Bowler, SKA Program Development Office, Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.



99% of near-Earth asteroids have been catalogued

Sentinel is a mission developed by Ball Aerospace for the non-profit B612 Foundation which aims to identify the vast majority of asteroids near Earth. Launched by 2018 and with 6.5 years of operation, it becomes the first privately-funded mission to the inner Solar System. A spacecraft with a 0.5-metre infrared telescope is placed in a Venus-like orbit, facing away from the Sun. This allows it to view the night half of the sky every 20 days – picking up objects that were previously difficult, if not impossible, to see from Earth.** In its first month alone, Sentinel discovers over 20,000 objects, more than double the 10,000* found in the past 30 years. Given the telescopic accuracy, its data also proves useful in future asteroid mining.


sentinel asteroid future mission 2018 2024
The Sentinel Space Telescope in orbit around the Sun. Image courtesy of Ball Aerospace.



The first probe to fly into the Sun's outer atmosphere

Solar Probe Plus is a historic mission flying into the Sun's outer atmosphere (corona) for the first time. The probe travels to within 5.9 million km (3.6 million miles) of the Sun's surface – just four times the length of its diameter.

At such close range, a shield is needed at the front of the spacecraft. This is made of reinforced carbon-carbon composite, able to withstand temperatures of 2000°C. At closest approach, Solar Probe Plus hurtles around the Sun at approximately 450,000 miles per hour; fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington in one second.

The mission's primary scientific goals are:

To determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the sources of solar wind.
To trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind.
To determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles.
To explore dusty plasma near the sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.

Coming closer to the Sun than any previous craft, Solar Probe Plus uses a combination of in situ measurements and 3D imaging to revolutionise our knowledge of the physics, origin and evolution of the solar wind.*


solar probe plus nasa mission sun corona atmosphere



Lunar Mission One drills into the Moon's south pole

Lunar Mission One is a British-led, unmanned Moon probe launched in 2024.* It attempts to land on the lunar south pole – a region largely unexplored until now – before drilling down at least 20m (65 ft) and trying to reach as deep as 100m (328 ft). This provides fresh new insights into the Moon's composition and geologic history, revealing new clues about the early Solar System. The mission gains crowdfunding through Kickstarter.* Backers are able to contribute photos, text and even their DNA in a time capsule, leaving a digital record of civilisation. Detailed analysis of the surface environment helps to gauge the suitability of the lunar south pole as a location for a permanent human base in future decades.*





Bio-electronics for treating arthritis are in common use

Arthritis is a form of joint disorder caused by trauma or infection of a joint, or old age. As of the 2010s, it was the single most common type of disability in the United States, predominantly affecting the elderly and resulting in over 20 million individuals having severe limitations in function on a daily basis. Total costs of arthritis cases were close to $100 billion annually, a figure expected to increase dramatically in the future with an aging population. Treatments for arthritis usually involved a combination of medication, exercise and lifestyle modification, but a cure remained elusive.

In 2014, a breakthrough involving the use of bio-electronics was unveiled by researchers. This took the form of a pacemaker-style device embedded in the necks of patients, firing bursts of electrical impulses to stimulate the vagus nerve – a crucial link between the brain and major organs. The impulses were shown to reduce activity in the spleen, in turn producing fewer chemicals and immune cells that would normally cause inflammation in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Over half of people saw a dramatic improvement, even for severe symptoms, with up to 30% achieving remission.

After successful clinical trials, another decade of progress led to next-generation implants miniaturised to the size of rice grains, as well as improvements in cost and efficacy. By 2024, it is a routine form of treatment in many countries.* Bio-electronics are showing promise in other areas too. For example, they can prevent the airway spasms of asthma, control appetite in obesity, and help restore normal insulin production in diabetes.


arthritis future cure



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1 European Space Agency picks Plato planet-hunting mission, BBC:
Accessed 20th February 2014.

2 ESA selects planet-hunting PLATO mission, ESA:
Accessed 20th February 2014.

3 Such a disaster could emerge "in the next ten to 15 years", according to Peter Schwartz, chairman of Global Business Network.
See Wired (UK launch issue – May 2009):
Accessed 8th April 2009.

4 Flooded future looms for Bangladesh, BBC News:
Accessed 8th April 2009.

5 Automated Poll Produces Starkly Different Results on Gay Marriage Question, FiveThirtyEight:
Accessed 6th February 2011.

6 Hansen: It won't be easy to kill same-sex marriage, Des Moines Register:
Accessed 6th February 2011.

7 African elephants could be extinct in 15 years, The Telegraph:
Accessed 19th October 2009.

8 Ray Kurzweil Says We'll Be 3D Printing Our Clothes in Less Than 10 Years, Motherboard:
Accessed 1st July 2014.

9 3D Systems' Fab-Grade 3D Printers Break The Speed Barrier Surpassing Traditional Injection Molding, 3D Systems:
Accessed 1st July 2014.

10 The Moore's Law of 3D Printing… Yes it Does Exist, And Could Have Staggering Implications, 3DPrint.com:
Accessed 1st July 2014.

11 SKA – Square Kilometre Array, skatelescope.org:
Accessed 8th June 2009.

12 Sentinel Mission, B612 Foundation:
Accessed 17th November 2013.

13 B612 Foundation Sentinel Mission, YouTube:
Accessed 17th November 2013.

14 The 10,000th near-Earth object is discovered, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed 17th November 2013.

15 Solar Probe Plus: A NASA mission to touch the Sun, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory:
Accessed 6th September 2010.

16 Lunar Missions Ltd - Lunar Mission One:
Accessed 19th November 2014.

17 LUNAR MISSION ONE: A new lunar mission for everyone, Kickstarter:
Accessed 19th November 2014.

18 See 2035-2040.

19 "Doctors hope the nerve stimulator could be widely used within 10 years."
See 'Nerve Hack' Offers Arthritis Sufferers Hope, Sky News:
Accessed 23rd December 2014.




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