Back in 1610, Galileo Galilei witnessed the first telescopic observation of the night sky, discovering Jupiter’s moons, lunar craters and the phases of Venus. On July 20th,1969, NASA successfully attempted a lunar landing with Apollo 11, and brought back samples of the moon. Now, within the past year, NASA has discovered ten earth-like planets that are approximately the same size and temperature as Earth, boosting their chances of hosting life.

With space technology growing rapidly in previous years, naturally, the volume of subsequent discoveries will also increase. Considering the countless theories space researchers have thrown around going into 2018, let’s take a look at some of the more supported and highly anticipated discoveries we can expect in the coming year.

Radio Signals Emerge From Deep Space

According to National Geographic in late 2017, astronomers detected what they called a series of “fleeting but extremely powerful blast of radio waves” from deep space — approximately 3 billion light years away. Scientists named the signal FRB 121102, like a person might name a stray cat.

This signal, however, had already been detected back in 2007. As researchers were trying to study its location and source using gps technologies, the signal suddenly fell silent. Then, out of nowhere, the same signal suddenly roared 15 radio bursts within an hour. Somewhat unsettlingly, researchers are unsure as to why FRB 121102 has turned on again.

“We agree with the majority of the astronomical community that the likelihood of ET being involved in this source is low, but the source is nevertheless very mysterious,” Cornell University’s Shami Chatterjee told National Geographic. “We know, without a doubt, that the universe is capable of giving rise to technologically capable life. We would be remiss as scientists to exclude this possibility a priori.” For now, researchers are turning most of their speculations and studies toward magnetars as a possible source.

Medical Advances with Telemedicine

Telemedicine is becoming specifically unique to space exploration. Many researchers are looking toward telemedicine as a medium to keep astronauts safe while on mission, similar to how it keeps humans safe on earth from a distance. According to Maryville University, “In addition to real-time video streaming, health care professionals may use remote sensors and data collection techniques to track patients’ health and statistics. Patients and health care professionals may also use smartphones and tablets to facilitate two-way communication by text, voice, or video.” Researchers predict by 2024 the number of telemedicine visits will surpass the number of in-office visits.

This technology means the top doctors around the world can remain in contact with astronauts. They can use telemedicine to monitor the health status of astronauts, and provide real-time feedback on things like exercise techniques to minimize bone and muscle loss over time. Medical advancements made through telemedicine may also include more accurate measurements, diagnostic tools and real-time tracking of health data.

A VR Earth: Past, Present and Future

To understand the present Earth and what its future may hold, it’s important for researchers to make connections and comparisons to events and patterns of the past. Knowing what species evolved at what time, understanding geological behavior, and comparing ancestral theories to modern theories all contribute to understanding where our earth stands, and for how long. This means evolving how we educate students, in which University of Arizona’s Ariel Anbar may be a pioneer.

Anbar is a geoscientist that focuses on Earth’s past and future as a habitable planet. He has involved the internet as a medium to develop a class called “Habitable Worlds”, which combines game-inspired elements and the sensibilities of a tech-savvy generation and brings them on virtual field trips that will be based on nearly 4 billion years of Earth’s geological record. ASU boasts that this immersive, interactive virtual field trip will take students to locations that teach key insights into Earth’s evolution, fundamental principles of geology and practices of scientific inquiry.

“The goal is to develop powerful and engaging new tools to teach about Earth’s evolution,” explains Anbar. “In the near term, we will create VFT-based lessons that can be incorporated into existing introductory geoscience courses.” This new technology may redefine what it means to explore historical biology.

Though discoveries are made every day through space research, it’s important to also recognize those less popular discoveries —  like advances in medicinal and educational opportunities. Together, all of it contributes to bigger and better things.

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