News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Crime & Justice

The sun, Saturn and satellites: Science stories to watch for in 2017




Planetary scientists have many worlds they'd like to visit, including Saturn's moon Titan, which has lakes of liquid methane on its surface.
Planetary scientists have many worlds they'd like to visit, including Saturn's moon Titan, which has lakes of liquid methane on its surface.
/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Listen to story

07:35
Download this story 10MB

Every year brings with it new hopes, possibilities... and scientific breakthroughs.

And while a lot of what's ahead in science is the stuff that none of us can predict, it doesn't hurt to look forward to the stuff we can.

George Dvorsky is a contributing editor for Gizmodo.

In a recent story, he highlighted a few of what he thinks will be the biggest science stories in 2017.

The Cassini-Huygens probe to Saturn

"The mission controllers back on Earth, they're not going to be able to control it anymore. In an effort to bring it out in a final blaze of glory, but also not risk it crashing on one of the moons and contaminating those moons with any human elements, they're gonna crash it into Saturn itself. And starting already it's going through its final maneuvers, but in April it's going through it's Grand Finale phase. The probes going to be getting closer and closer, even within the ring system on the planet. Mark your calendars because on September 15th of 2017, the probe is going to plunge into the atmosphere."

NASA's Juno satellite near Jupiter

It arrived there earlier this year and it's making a series of grand orbits around Jupiter. And it's going to get really underway in the coming months. It's armed with a battery of instruments and key to this particular mission is scientists want to get a sense of what this massive gas giant looks like on the inside. So it's going to be conducting a number of scans accordingly. Later this year we should expect scientists to start producing what are going to be three-dimensional maps of Jupiter. So we'll get a sense of how it's  atmosphere is composed, how it breaks down in terms of its layers as you get deeper into it. Also, we're going to find out a little bit more about what's producing its beautiful and majestic auroras.

A total solar eclipse

"It's the first ever total solar eclipse that's only going to be visible in the United States since the time of the American revolution. That's also going to be the first in 99 years that's going to sweep the entire continental United States, stretching from Oregon all the way through to North Carolina. And the band from which it will be visible as a total solar eclipse, meaning that the whole sun will be blotted out by the moon, that will be a 62-mile wide corridor stretching from coast to coast. it should be in its total eclipse state for roughly a few minutes. But there is good news for virtually everyone else on the entire continent in that it will be visible at least as a partial solar eclipse. Mark that one down on your calendar: that's going to be on August the 21st next year."

The future of the Zika virus

"In the United States, there are concerns that it's made its appearance in Florida and most recently in Texas. This will still kind of be in the news as we follow it. On a positive side, the more you study it the more we see it, the more we'll understand it. Maybe we can mitigate it spread its effects. The things we should watch out for in 2017 is the results of some of the clinical trials of some of the vaccines that are being tried to combat Zika. We may not see actual immunizations happen in 2017, we're going to start to see those first few vaccines emerge that are going to potentially be beneficial for humans."

La Niña

"Now that El Niño has come and gone we can expect its partner in crime to emerge which is La Niña. and unlike El Niño which is a warming event, La Niña is a cooling event. It's going to bring cooler temperatures to various parts of the world. We're not going to see those same heat records that we saw in 2016 repeat itself in 2017, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't still be concerned about the various effects of climate change."

Science under President-elect Donald Trump

"There's reasonable concern that some of his early choices for his various cabinet position aren't necessarily going to be environmentally friendly. There's, of course, the climate-skeptics Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt and if these are any kind of sign, it's just that the environment is going to be of little concern to the incoming administration. The folks coming in are concerned with making sure that there are going to no more tight regulations when it comes to the extraction of oil and gas."  

To hear the full conversation click the blue player above