A tipping point for block chain
Bitcoin is a form of digital money that was created in 2009 by an unknown person. As a decentralised virtual currency, the system is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without the need for banks or transaction fees.* These payments are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called the “block chain”, which uses bitcoin as its unit of account. Although these records are public, the names of buyers and sellers are completely anonymous; only their wallet IDs are revealed. International payments are easy and cheap, since bitcoins are not tied to any specific country and are mostly unregulated.
New bitcoins are created as a reward for payment processing work in which users offer their computer processing power to verify and record payments into the public ledger. This activity is known as “mining” and miners are rewarded with transaction fees and newly created bitcoins. Besides being obtained by mining, bitcoins can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services. Bitcoin became the first cryptocurrency – and by far the most well-known – but various others were introduced in subsequent years. These were frequently referred to as altcoins; a blend of bitcoin alternative.
The underlying block chain technology of these virtual currencies grew in popularity. Money was just one of their many possible applications. They could be programmed to represent units of energy, shares in a company, election votes, digital certificates of ownership, or whatever properties its users wished to assign. The open, transparent and flexible nature of cryptocurrencies helped to reduce bureaucracy, made administrative processes faster and more efficient and enabled the automation of many systems.
This became especially useful as the Internet of Things began to take shape. Machines could be programmed to automatically perform transactions and order new items or services when required, using the block chain for verification, without the need for banks or middle men. For example, a fridge or vending machine would know when its supplies were running low and ensure that food was kept regularly stocked.
In 2015, the number of merchants accepting bitcoin for products and services passed 100,000. Block chain was described as “one of the most powerful innovations in finance in 500 years” by the Wall Street Journal, with many banks predicting it could revolutionise their operations.* A tipping point for government use of the technology occurs by 2023, with large-scale adoption by businesses and the public by 2027.* Around 10% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is stored on a block chain by this time, compared to just 0.025% in 2015. The supply growth is 25 bitcoins per block in 2016 (approximately every ten minutes), then afterwards 12.5 bitcoins per block for four years until the next halving. This halving continues until 2110–40, when 21 million bitcoins have been issued.*
Xi Jinping extends his presidency
On 15th November 2012, Xi Jinping was elected as General Secretary of China’s Communist Party, replacing Hu Jintao. In his opening speech, he mentioned the aspirations of the average person, remarking, “Our people … expect better education, more stable jobs, better income, more reliable social security, medical care of a higher standard, more comfortable living conditions, and a more beautiful environment.”
Xi also vowed to root out corruption at the highest levels and warned that it could threaten the Party’s survival. This move subsequently led to the downfall of prominent Communist Party officials – including members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s highest decision-making body.
On 14th March 2013, Xi was elected President of the People’s Republic of China, in a confirmation vote by the 12th National People’s Congress, once again replacing Hu Jintao, who retired after serving two terms.
Xi introduced far-ranging measures to enforce party discipline and ensure unity. He significantly centralised institutional power by taking on a wide range of leadership positions – including chairing the newly formed National Security Commission. In addition to his anti-corruption campaign, he tightened restrictions over civil society and ideological discourse, advocating Internet censorship across China. He called for further socialist market economic reforms, for governing according to the law and for strengthening legal institutions, with an emphasis on individual and national aspirations under the slogan “Chinese Dream”.
Xi espoused a more assertive foreign policy, particularly with regard to China–Japan relations, China’s claims in the South China Sea, and its role as a leading advocate of free trade and globalisation. The 2015 meeting between Xi and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou marked the first time the political leaders of both sides of the Taiwan Strait had met since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950.
In 2018, Forbes ranked Xi as the most powerful and influential person in the world, dethroning Russian President Vladimir Putin who held the accolade for five consecutive years. Viewed as one of the most important leaders in modern Chinese history, Xi amended the state constitution to abolish term limits, allowing him to continue serving as President beyond 2023.**
Among the major challenges facing China in the 2020s is a slowdown in population growth. The country had abandoned its one-child policy in 2015.* However, the relaxation of family planning laws did little to reverse this trend. Combined with rapid increases in life expectancy, China is therefore now experiencing the same problems that its rival, Japan, underwent in earlier decades. Substantial investments are being made for elderly care, along with measures to increase the economic productivity of its shrinking worker base.
To consolidate his power, President Xi takes advantage of the ongoing progress in artificial intelligence (AI), leading to a further crackdown on civil liberties as surveillance methods become ever more advanced. These and other technologies are also employed to great effect in foreign operations such as hacking, industrial espionage, spying and general cyber activities.
Other developments around this time include a further colonisation of islands in the South China Sea, plus additional pressure on Taiwan (though stopping short of all-out war) and progress on the Belt and Road Initiative.* China also continues to lead the global effort against climate change, with additional large-scale closures of coal-fired plants and a huge increase in clean energy capacity. By the middle of this decade, 50% of the country’s electricity is produced from renewable sources, more than twice the amount in 2015.
China continues its move away from being the world’s factory floor (cheap goods and low quality) to higher value products and services (e.g. aerospace, automotive, IT, pharmaceutical, robotics and semiconductors). Despite various economic, demographic and other challenges, it continues to edge ahead of the United States and to increase its share of global GDP.
The Aerion AS2 supersonic jet enters service
Following many years of research and development, a supersonic business jet for the super rich is launched this year by the aerospace company Aerion. Known as the AS2, it has a top speed of Mach 1.5, which is 67 percent faster than the top cruise speeds of conventional long-haul subsonic aircraft. Carrying between eight and 12 passengers, the AS2 has a range of 4,750 nautical miles at supersonic speed. It can save 2.5 hours across the Atlantic versus subsonic aircraft and more than five hours on longer trans-Pacific routes. This three-engine jet has its first test flight in 2021 and enters commercial service in 2023.* A competitor supersonic jet – the Spike S-512 – was launched some years earlier, in 2018.* These jets are among the first in a new generation of dramatically faster airliners. The wing design of the AS2 allows for lighter fuel consumption and increased travel ranges by reducing aerodynamic drag by 20%.*
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope begins full operations
Joining the European Extremely Large Telescope this year is another observatory, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), beginning full operations for a ten-year study.* This wide-field “survey” reflecting telescope is located on the 2,715 m (8,907 ft) Cerro Pachón, a mountain in northern Chile.
The LSST design is unique among large telescopes in having a very wide field of view: 3.5 degrees in diameter or 9.6 square degrees. For comparison, both the Sun and Moon, as seen from the Earth, are 0.5 degrees across or 0.2 square degrees. Combined with its large aperture, this provides it with a spectacularly large collecting power of 319 m²degree². In other words, vast amounts of data can be obtained simultaneously over huge areas of sky.
The observatory has a 3.2 gigapixel camera, taking 200,000 pictures (1.28 petabytes uncompressed) per year, far more than can be reviewed by humans. Managing and effectively data mining this enormous output is among the most technically difficult parts of the project, requiring 100 teraflops of computing power and 15 petabytes of storage. The main scientific goals of the LSST include:
- Measuring weak gravitational lensing in the deep sky to detect signatures of dark energy and dark matter;
- Mapping small objects in the Solar System, particularly near-Earth asteroids and Kuiper belt objects;
- Detecting transient optical events such as novae and supernovae;
- Mapping the Milky Way.
Data from the telescope (up to 30 terabytes per night) is made available by Google as an up-to-date interactive night-sky map.
Credit: LSST Corporation
First crewed flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft
In 2023, NASA conducts the first crewed test flight of Orion, a spacecraft that will eventually take humans to Mars. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), to give its full name, was announced in 2011. Its design was based on the earlier Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which formed part of the cancelled program known as Constellation. The spacecraft would consist of two main parts: the command module (built by Lockheed Martin) and the service module (provided by the European Space Agency). The total mass of the 5 m (16 ft) diameter craft was 28.5 tons (57,000 lb), with a habitable volume of nine cubic metres. It would sit atop the Space Launch System (SLS), a huge new rocket being developed for journeys to the Moon and Mars.
In December 2014, the first unmanned test flight took place. This was successfully launched by a Delta IV heavy lift rocket, reaching a higher altitude than any spacecraft intended for human use since 1973. Orion made two highly elliptical orbits of the Earth, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
A second test flight would be conducted in late 2018, the first to be launched using the new SLS rocket. This would involve the Orion – again uncrewed – spending approximately three weeks in space, with six days of this in a retrograde orbit around the Moon. The main purpose of this mission was to demonstrate the integrated spacecraft systems prior to a crewed flight, and in addition, test a high speed reentry (11 km/s) on Orion’s thermal protection system. A payload of 13 low-cost CubeSats would reside in the second stage of the launch vehicle, from which they would be deployed for studying the Moon, near-Earth asteroids and in various other space missions.
A third flight occurs in 2023 – the first involving both a human crew and the SLS rocket.* Four astronauts are carried into a distant retrograde orbit of about 44,000 miles (71,000 km) from the Moon for a period of two weeks. This mission is the first time humans have departed low Earth orbit (LEO) since Apollo 17 in December 1972, more than 50 years earlier. The crew enters lunar orbit, tests critical mission events, and performs various operations in relevant environments.
Over the course of 18 years – from the earlier Constellation program (initiated in 2005), through to its first crewed flight (2023) – the total cost of Orion is in the region of $17 billion.* The SLS budget is $7 billion from early 2014 through to the rocket’s first demonstration launch in 2018.
Following the first crewed flight of Orion, a number of additional tests are conducted in subsequent years. One such mission involves a flyby of a small asteroid captured in lunar orbit. Alongside this, new upgrades are introduced to make both the SLS and Orion more versatile. Arguably the most significant of these is a new configuration for the SLS that nearly doubles its payload from 70,000 kg to a massive 130,000 kg. New modules are developed to expand the available habitat volume, extend mission durations and improve docking and other functions.* This combination of larger and more powerful rockets and the improved capabilities of the Orion MPCV enables manned missions to Mars in the 2030s.*
Rosalind Franklin touches down on Mars
Rosalind Franklin, previously known as ExoMars, is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Divided into two parts, the first phase was launched in March 2016, arriving nine months later. This consisted of an orbiter – the Trace Gas Orbiter – for mapping sources of methane and other gases on Mars, to determine the best location for a rover to study. It also contained a static demonstration module to prove the landing site was viable. Schiaparelli – the name of this module – failed shortly before reaching the surface, with a NASA image later showing what appeared to be its crash site. However, the next phase of the mission would proceed.
Kazachok (Russian for “Little Cossack”) is a robotic lander built by Roscosmos, launched on a Proton-M rocket in late 2022, and which delivers the rover aspect of the mission in mid-2023.* The target site,* Oxia Planum, lies north-east of the huge canyon system known as Valles Marineris, in a region of low elevation about 3,000 metres below the Martian average. This contains one of the largest exposures of clay-bearing rocks on Mars, exhibiting different compositions that indicate a variety of deposition and wetting environments. After Kazachok lands, it extends a ramp to deploy the Rosalind Franklin rover (named after the English chemist and DNA pioneer) to the surface. Kazachok remains stationary and begins a two-year mission to investigate the surrounding environment, using a wide variety of scientific instruments.
Rosalind Franklin‘s primary objective is to determine any signs of microbial life, past or present. The rover is equipped with a drill that bores down two metres below the surface to retrieve samples. These are transferred to a miniature laboratory inside the rover. This contains a sensor for biological molecules, infrared and X-ray spectroscopes that catalogue the mineralogical makeup of the sample, together with imaging devices.
Located in the drill structure is another infrared spectrometer that studies the inside surface of the bore hole. Rosalind Franklin uses ground-penetrating radar to search for ideal locations at which to drill. The mission is almost entirely automated, as the rover is fitted with imaging cameras to create a 3D map of the terrain for avoiding obstacles. It has a lifespan of seven months, driving across the Martian terrain at 70 m (230 ft) per sol (Martian day) and testing dozens of samples during its 4 km (2.5 mi) journey. The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), in orbit since 2016, functions as the data-relay satellite of both Kazachok and Rosalind Franklin.
Originally planned to launch in 2018 and land on Mars in early 2019, the rover aspect of the mission faced delays due to European and Russian industrial activities and deliveries of the scientific payload. This schedule therefore slipped to July 2020. Further delays occurred, in part due to COVID-19, with ESA and Roscosmos choosing a launch window of August–October 2022 and a landing date of April–July 2023.*
Rosalind Franklin is one of numerous missions to Mars occurring at this time, with humanity expanding its scientific analysis of the Red Planet as a precursor to crewed missions in subsequent decades.
Credits: NASA/MOLA (elevation map); ESA/Mlabspace (rover image)
Asteroid sample return mission
Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is NASA’s first asteroid sample-return effort and only the second mission in history to retrieve samples from an asteroid.* Launched in 2016, it became the third selected mission in the New Frontiers Program, along with Juno and New Horizons.
The probe was sent to 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous rock about 500m (1,640 ft) in diameter and classed as an Apollo asteroid. These are near-Earth asteroids whose orbits cross that of Earth. 101955 Bennu was calculated to have a small chance of colliding with Earth between the years 2169 and 2199,* making it of particular interest to study.
Equipped with a suite of instruments, including high resolution cameras, the probe arrived in 2018 and began imaging of the surface. Following a series of close orbital manoeuvres, a sample is gathered and returned to Earth in 2023. This reveals new insights about the formation and evolution of the early Solar System, initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds which led to the formation of life.* The total cost of the mission (including launch vehicle) is approximately $1 billion.
The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is operational
The UK’s first commercial nuclear reactor began operating in 1956 and, at the peak in 1997, 26% of the nation’s electricity was generated from nuclear power. In the early 21st century, however, many of these aging reactors were being retired and the share had declined to 19% by 2012. Of the remaining nine plants – with a combined capacity of 9,000 MW – eight were due for closure by the early 2020s. Not only that, but the majority of coal power stations needed replacing too. The UK faced the prospect of losing two-thirds of its electricity by 2030, unless major investment was undertaken to improve its energy infrastructure.
In 2011, the government announced plans for an entire new fleet of nuclear power plants.* All would be constructed at or near existing sites, to minimise disruption. Among the first of these was Hinkley Point C – proposed next to Hinkley A and B, a pair of older stations.* This was approved in October 2013.* Two reactors would be installed with a combined capacity of 3,200 MW – enough to supply nearly 6 million homes, or an area twice the size of London, accounting for 7% of the country’s electricity.*
The project has total costs of £16 bn ($26 bn) and is funded by a consortium of French and Chinese investors, including EDF Group. The facility comes online by 2023, becoming the first in a new generation of nuclear plants for the UK, the last having been built in 1995. It remains operational for around 60 years.**
The Type 26 Global Combat Ship enters service
The Type 26 Global Combat Ship is a British Royal Navy vessel that replaces the aging Type 23 frigates. Following 25 years of research and development that began in 1998, it enters service in 2023,* with the programme running until the 2030s. A total of eight ships are constructed by BAE Systems during this time at a cost of nearly £12 billion ($16.5 billion). They remain in service until 2060.*
The Type 26 forms a general purpose fleet with air defence, anti-ship, towed array sonar and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Each of these 150 m (492 ft) vessels has a crew complement of 118 (with capacity for 208), a top speed in excess of 26 knots (30 mph; 48 km/h), up to 8,000 tons of displacement when fully loaded, and a maximum range of 7,000 nautical miles (13,000 km). The ships are designed for multi-role versatility, flexibility in adapting to future needs, affordability in both construction and through-life support costs, and exportability.
The Type 26 features a number of improvements over its predecessor, the Type 23. It packs a formidable array of weaponry that includes strike length VLS silos enabling the ship to fire a mix of current and planned future missiles such as land attack missiles, very long range anti-ship missiles (far further than before) and anti-submarine missile torpedoes. Its missiles can target various air, sea and coastal threats – including speedboats, patrol boats, coastal batteries, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The ship’s guns include a five inch BAE Mk 45 naval gun, two 30 mm DS30M Mk2 guns, two Phalanx CIWS weapon systems (for defence against anti-ship missiles) and a pair of miniguns, along with four general purpose machine guns.
Credit: BAE Systems
Being of greater size than its predecessor, the Type 26 has more aviation capacity and storage space. Its hangar can accommodate two helicopters (Royal Navy Wildcats and Merlins), while its flight deck supports a Chinook helicopter – a major improvement, which matches the Type 45 Destroyers’ Chinook-capable deck. The extra space enables a larger multi-role mission bay to hold more supplies, a mini hospital, disaster relief equipment and up to 60 Royal Marines, as well as mine hunting equipment.
If necessary, a fleet of these ships can be organised to have a group of 18 helicopters take off simultaneously and land more than 1,000 soldiers at a drop zone in a single movement. This brings massive force to bear immediately and makes full use of any element of surprise; a big improvement over previous fleet operational mission abilities.
Another notable feature of the Type 26 is an additional connected hangar and “flexible mission bay” at the aft end of the ship. This enables the ship to function as a base for launching small boats, as well as autonomous marine vehicles.
The Type 26 is designed with modularity and flexibility in mind to enhance versatility across the full range of operations, including maritime security, counter piracy, counter terrorist and humanitarian and disaster relief operations. The ship includes a Meteorological and Oceanographic (METOC) system, which collates and analyses environmental information to support operations.
Britain’s navy had already received a boost from the recent completion of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The Type 26 Global Combat Ship is another highly important addition. By the 2030s, about half of the Royal Navy’s front line personnel are operating on these frigates. The modular design and open systems architecture ensure they can be easily upgraded as new technology develops.
celebrates its 100th anniversary as an independent republic
are taking place this year to mark the centenary of the
Turkish Republic. As part of its anniversary, one of the grandest infrastructure projects in history is completed: the Canal Istanbul. This artificial waterway connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Measuring 30 miles (48 km) in length, and 500 ft (150m) wide, this dissects the European side of Istanbul in two, thus creating a new island between Asia and Istanbul.* It bypasses the already existing Bosphorus Strait, substantially reducing congestion on the water and minimising the potential for collisions between oil tankers.* Excavated soil is used in the construction of a major new port, together with an airport, as well as the burying of defunct mines in the region.
Turkey has also achieved energy independence by now, with 10 billion barrels
of oil and over 1.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas uncovered
in the Black Sea.* These huge
reserves have enabled the country to completely end its reliance on
*However, it has yet to be accepted into the European Union.*
Completion of the London “super sewer”
The Thames Tideway scheme is the biggest wastewater project in London since the mid-19th century. It involves a major upgrade of the aging Victorian system – helping to prevent discharge into the River Thames during periods of heavy rainfall and improving the overall quality of the city’s water. The storage-and-transfer tunnel is 35km long, with shafts 25m in diameter, 75m below ground for most of the route.* It runs across the city from west to east, then west again to a final pumping station.
Prior to the completion of this megaproject, some 32 million cubic metres of raw sewage was being discharged into the river each year. An overflow was occuring every week, even during moderate rainfall. By 2009, the situation had become so bad that the British government was threatened with legal action in the European Court of Justice.*
The Thames Tideway attracted controversy, however. Opponents raised concerns over the cost to Londoners (£4.1bn) and the impact of construction works on parks and house prices. Nevertheless, it goes ahead and is eventually finished by 2023.*
Brain implants to restore lost memories
By now, it’s becoming possible to replicate small areas of the brain with “neural prostheses” in order to repair damage from Alzheimer’s, stroke or injury. This includes the restoration of lost memories. These devices can mimic the electrochemical signals from regions like the hippocampus (involved in consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory, as well as spatial navigation).
Experiments were initially conducted on rodents,* then monkeys,* before moving to human volunteers.* After years of clinical studies, the process can now be safely performed in hospitals. Electrode arrays are first used to record the activity of healthy brain tissue. The unique patterns responsible for creating memories are detected and stored by a computer. These patterns are then used to predict what the “downstream” damaged areas should be doing. Finally, the desired activity in healthy areas can be replicated by stimulating brain cells with electrodes. The neural prosthesis therefore bridges the gap from healthy to damaged areas.
A combination of these memory implants and drugs can treat early dementia and memory loss. In patients with advanced Alzheimer’s, however, the neural signals are usually too degraded for a successful outcome. Nevertheless, this new treatment is a significant step forward in understanding the brain. Eventually, it will be possible to mimic entire regions – bypassing the hippocampus, for example – with complex functions being replaced entirely by electrode signals. Further into the future, as neural implants continue to improve in power, this will pave the way for uploading of minds into computer substrates.*
Luna 27 lands on the far side of the Moon
Luna 27 is an unmanned mission to explore the far side of the Moon, operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) with collaboration from the European Space Agency (ESA). It lands in the South Pole–Aitken basin, becoming the second probe, after China’s Chang’e 4 in 2019, to visit this area.
The main objectives of Luna 27 are to prospect for minerals, volatiles and water ice in permanently shadowed areas of the Moon and investigate the potential use of these resources for human colonists in the future. The lander features 15 science instruments to analyse the lunar regolith, plasma in the exosphere, dust and seismic activity. It is a continuation of Russia’s Luna-Glob programme, itself a continuation of the Luna programme, which began with Luna 1 in 1959.
The ESA contribution includes the development of a new type of automated landing system,* along with a ‘PROSPECT’ package, which consists of a drilling, sampling, sample handling, processing and analysis package. The drill is designed to go 2 m (6 ft 7 in) below the surface and collect cemented ice samples for an onboard miniaturised laboratory.
A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the mission in 2023.* It is followed by subsequent probes in the Luna series, including a sample return mission and three additional probes (Lunas 29, 30 and 31) – intended to pave the way for crewed missions and the construction of a lunar base in the 2030s.
Driverless high-speed trains begin operating in France
In 2023, France begins rolling out high-speed, autonomous trains on its TGV network. The SNCF – France’s national state-owned railway company – began testing these “drone trains” in 2019. After four years of trials with a prototype, they are now ready for commercial use. The new trains are equipped with sensors to detect any potential hazards and automatically brake, if necessary. They can reach speeds of almost 200 mph (320 km/h) and their greater efficiency means that 25% more trains can be run on the same lines. While a number of slower trains had already been automated before, the SNCF becomes the first operator in the world to run automated high-speed trains.* Initially, conductors remain on board in case of an emergency.* The service runs between Paris and destinations to the southeast of France, but is gradually expanded to other parts of the country.
By Taxiarchos228 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Completion of the Stad Ship Tunnel
The Stad Ship Tunnel is a 1.8 km (1.1 mile) canal and tunnel on Norway’s west coast, designed to allow ships to bypass the Stad peninsula – notorious for its hazardous weather and complex wave conditions. It is the world’s first tunnel for ships. The structure was first proposed in 1874, but not revived until more than 130 years later. Around eight million tons of rock is blasted out to build the tunnel, which is 50m high and 36m wide. This allows a water depth of 12 metres, sufficient to handle ships of up to 18,000 tons and large enough for the Hurtigruten coastal express ships to pass through. The overall project cost is 2.7 billion kroner ($314 million), with construction starting in 2019 and the official opening in 2023.*
Launch of the SPHEREx mission
Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) is a NASA observatory that performs an all-sky survey of more than 300 million galaxies, along with 100 million individual stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. It is designed to improve the understanding of both how our universe evolved and how common are the ingredients for life in our galaxy’s planetary systems.
Among the specific objectives are:
• Constraining the physics of inflation, by measuring its imprints on the three-dimensional large-scale distribution of matter;
• Tracing the history of galactic light production through a deep multi-band measurement of large-scale clustering;
• Investigating the abundance and composition of water and biogenic ices in the early phases of star and planetary disk formation.
SPHEREx uses a spectrophotometer to observe in the near-infrared, mapping the entire sky four times during its nominal 25-month mission. It classifies galaxies according to redshift accuracy, fitting measured spectra to a library of galaxy templates. Specifically, it probes the signals from “intra-halo light” (rogue stars torn from their host galaxies) and signals from the epoch of reionisation (arguably the least understood period in the lifetime of the Universe, marking the point when the first stars ignited and ended the “Dark Ages”). It studies what drove the early universe inflation, explores the origin and history of galaxies, and determines the origin of water in planetary systems.
SPHEREx complements the Euclid observatory, but its lower redshift survey allows its measurement of inflationary parameters to be mostly independent to provide a new line of evidence. The mission creates a map of the entire sky in 96 different colour bands, far exceeding the colour resolution of previous all-sky maps. It also identifies targets for more detailed study by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
SPHEREx is launched on 31st December 2023.*
IBM debuts a 1,000+ qubit quantum computer
In 2023, IBM launches a new quantum computer known as Condor.* This features 1,121 qubits – the first machine by IBM to break the 1,000-qubit milestone and a 17-fold increase compared to its Hummingbird project of 2020.
With IBM’s researchers having overcome many of the earlier challenges in terms of scaling up, Condor represents an inflection point in the commercialisation of quantum technology. Another company, D-Wave Systems, had previously announced quantum computers featuring thousands of qubits. However, these relied on a technique called quantum annealing – with high error rates, and generally not accepted by researchers as true “universal” quantum computers. By contrast, IBM’s latest machine features extreme accuracy, with error rates having declined from 1% in 2020 to around 0.0001% in 2023.*
The new Condor processor can solve a range of problems, with more complex workloads than any existing chip. The project is used for exploring potential Quantum Advantages – calculations that work more efficiently on a quantum computer than on the world’s best supercomputers. This is made possible by a dilution refrigerator larger than any previously built, for supercooling the various components to near absolute zero. Condor‘s architecture – along with similar breakthroughs by rivals such as Google and Intel – paves the way for large-scale quantum systems with millions of qubits in the 2030s.