2023 news preview: The biggest science stories of next year

What are you looking forward to reading about in 2023? Whether it is health, physics, technology or environment news, New Scientist will have you covered

Space


22 December 2022

Engineers working on the Psyche spacecraft

Engineers working on the Psyche spacecraft, which is set to launch in October 2023

Maxar

A fleet of rockets, new hope for the Amazon and an attempt to transform our diets are just some of the exciting stories that the New Scientist The news team will be covering in 2023. Read on for our picks of the biggest science, technology, health and environment news you can expect to see in the coming year.

Space exploration

SpaceX’s Starship, the largest rocket ever built, is set to make its first orbital flight in 2023. It is just one of a fleet of huge rockets due to launch in the next 12 months, along with Blue Origin’s New Glenn. Both firms are owned by billionaires – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, respectively – who hope to shape the future of space travel.

Away from the private sector, government space agencies are also planning some exciting missions. The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer will blast off in April and arrive at the Jupiter system in 2031, where it will explore Europa, Callisto and Ganymede for signs of habitability. NASA, meanwhile, is sending a spacecraft called Psyche to an asteroid, also called Psyche, that is believed to be the exposed iron core of a young planet. It will launch in October and arrive in 2029.

Closer to home, NASA is also gearing up to test its experimental X-59 plane, which is designed to break the sound barrier without creating a sonic boom and could lead to a renaissance for super-fast air travel.

Diseases

The fourth year of the coronavirus pandemic holds many uncertainties, not least as cases surge in China following the easing of its zero-covid strategy. One certainty is that we will need more and better vaccines to deal with emerging strains, though new jabs are unlikely to be approved as quickly as the first tranche, as regulatory approval will be slower.

Vaccines will also be needed to address the growing threat of avian flu, as the H5N1 virus continues to sweep through Europe and the US. These countries haven’t traditionally vaccinated poultry, as is done in places like Egypt and Hong Kong, but governments seem to be coming around to the idea.

Environment

In better news, defenders of the Amazon rainforest are in a cheery mood as we enter 2023. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who takes office as president of Brazil on 1 January, has promised to reverse many of the measures put in place by his predecessor , Jair Bolsonaro, who had allowed rampant deforestation.

But even as the rainforest is saved, the oceans may be under a new threat in July 2023. If nations haven’t agreed an international code to regulate deep-sea mining by this point, governments and businesses eyeing the mineral wealth of the sea floor will be able to exploit these resources with few restrictions.

Technology

Government regulation will also play a key role in the field of artificial intelligence during 2023, with the European Union expected to finalise its Artificial Intelligence Act. This is the first attempt to create broad standards for the use of AI and aims to protect citizens of the EU from potentially harmful practices. Other nations and the tech giants will be watching closely, as European tech regulation has proved to be a global model for similar laws elsewhere.

Meanwhile, another group of Europeans is hoping to change the way we feed the world. Solar Foods, a company that uses renewable energy to turn carbon dioxide into a protein-rich powder, is set to open its first commercial-scale factory in Helsinki, Finland. The powder can be used in place of eggs and other sources of protein, and could drastically cut the water and land use involved in producing food.

Physics

Finally, it is a late Christmas for physicists, who will get two big toys to play with in 2023. First is the Linac Coherent Light Source-II, an upgrade of an existing facility in California that will turn it into the ultimate X-ray machine. Researchers hope to use it to make movies of the atoms inside molecules.

At the other end of the scale, a new gravitational wave hunter will also come online in 2023. The Matter-Wave Laser Interferometric Gravitation Antenna uses rubidium atoms chilled to such an extent that they become “matter waves”, able to tease out the ripples in space-time produced by colliding black holes and other massive objects. It will be able to detect events that our existing gravitational wave facilities have missed and could even help in the search for dark matter.