Barry McNamara  |  Published June 29, 2023

Life in 2100, Part IV

Physics professor Michael Solontoi considers what might be possible in space exploration in the next several decades and what might be learned from it.

OUR FUTURE HOME? By the year 2100, Monmouth professor Michael Solontoi believes it's very pos... OUR FUTURE HOME? By the year 2100, Monmouth professor Michael Solontoi believes it's very possible that the moon will be home to more than the occasional astronaut.MONMOUTH, Ill. – In the first series of faculty interviews concerning “Life in 2100,” physics professor Ashwani Kumar shared Michio Kaku’s optimism that a space elevator could be constructed by the end of the century, greatly reducing the cost of future launches into outer space.

(Read Part I here)

(Read Part II here)

(Read Part III here)

Kumar’s physics colleague, Michael Solontoi, doesn’t share that optimism, but he was willing to go out on a limb on a few other scenarios.

“The place for a space elevator is a sci-fi movie,” said Solontoi. “There’s no realistic projection for a space elevator. If one gets built, color me shocked.”

MICHAEL SOLONTOI: Monmouth professor is part of a major telescope project in Chile that is set to... MICHAEL SOLONTOI: Monmouth professor is part of a major telescope project in Chile that is set to launch next year.But Solontoi said progress in space is inevitable. In fact, he and his team have counted on scientific progress while working on the major telescope project at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile.

“The project (which is expected to begin in the fall of 2024) will generate an absurd amount of data,” he said. “We couldn’t handle the data management now, but we’re banking there will be better solutions by the time the data starts coming in.”

Solontoi then posed a question.

“Until recently, do you know the fastest way to move a terabyte of data? FedEx. It was faster to ship it overnight than it was to wait for the data transfer to download.”

When it comes to making predictions on what will be possible in space by 2100, Solontoi attempted to walk the fine line between what might develop through the pace of technology and discovery and being able “to back up what I say.”

“I’m optimistic there will be very, very large telescopes, or at least large ones made out of lots of smaller ones,” he said. “So within 30-40 years, I’m confident in saying we’ll have a clearer understanding of the ice giants, Neptune and Uranus. The James Webb Telescope will resolve a number of issues, and it will serve as a test tool for the next generation, just like the Hubble Telescope was for ours.

“I think it’s realistic that they’ll be on the moon by 100 years from now. The moon first, then maybe Mars. After all, 100 years ago we were barely past the Wright brothers. So Wright brothers to today in 100 years, to people on Mars in another 100 years. Why not?” Michael Solontoi


“But I will say that in 100 years, people will be living permanently in another world. We already have people staying on the space station, so I think it’s realistic that they’ll be on the moon by 100 years from now. The moon first, then maybe Mars. After all, 100 years ago we were barely past the Wright brothers. So Wright brothers to today in 100 years, to people on Mars in another 100 years. Why not?”

Since Solontoi’s area of expertise is the solar system, he stayed relatively close to home with his next prediction.

“We will have found evidence of past life on Mars and/or there could be life on Neptune and Uranus,” he said. “We’ll have probes and sensors that are capable of making those discoveries. It would be an amazing discovery. I would be surprised, but not shocked.”

“Space exploration takes time. It takes almost 20 years to get to Uranus. And before that, it takes years to fund the probe you’re launching and years to build it.” Michael Solontoi

He figured such findings will come later than sooner.

“Space exploration takes time,” said Solontoi. “It takes almost 20 years to get to Uranus. And before that, it takes years to fund the probe you’re launching and years to build it.”

Solontoi also guessed that by 2100 scientists will have resolved dark energy – a theoretical repulsive force that counteracts gravity and causes the universe to expand at an accelerating rate – “but we’ll still be puzzled by dark matter,” a nonluminous material that is postulated to exist in space and could take any of several forms.

Humankind’s heritage

“The sky is really humankind’s heritage,” said Solontoi. “It’s the one thing that we do exactly the same way as our ancient ancestors did. We look up at the sky and we wonder. You and your great-great-great grandfather Ug the caveman were doing the same thing. From the first city of Çatalhöyük, to ancient Egypt, to the Romans and classic Greece, to your children, we’ve all looked at the same sky.”

“The sky is really humankind’s heritage. It’s the one thing that we do exactly the same way as our ancient ancestors did. We look up at the sky and we wonder.” Michael Solontoi

It’s mostly the same sky, although advances during the past few decades have added a few new objects, said Solontoi, who also echoed his colleague Chris Fasano’s concerns about the price of progress.

“Soon, one out of every 10 things we see in the sky will be a satellite,” he said. “Is that acceptable?”

And what happens when two of those things go bump in the night?

“Those objects are moving at 25 times the speed of sound – Mach several dozen,” said Solontoi. “When they collide, they don’t do it gently. There would be hundreds and thousands of bits of shrapnel. There was some damage to a window on the International Space Station, and it was caused by an object the size and mass of a paint chip. If you had one of those collisions, it could lead to a giant shell of shrapnel and you couldn’t move anything through it because it would get damaged. Am I saying that will happen? No. But it is possible.”

In addition to foreseeing a space elevator, Kaku also predicted that nanotechnology would lead to the ability to launch thousands of smaller things.

“People are already doing that, but the more stuff that gets launched into orbit, the harder my job becomes,” said Solontoi. “They had to change the color scheme on Space X’s little disaster-in-waiting, Starlink, because every time one went overhead, you’ve destroyed the exposure of what you’re tracking, because they’re stupid bright.”

“Space is less regulated than maritime practices. It used to be just the United States and Russia, but now multiple nations are involved, and some are more saber-rattle-y than others. Plus, you have profit-minded corporations involved. Before we can talk about launching more things, there needs to be a better plan.” Michael Solontoi

Air traffic controllers help make sure aircraft stay relatively far apart in the sky. The same might soon be needed in space, said Solontoi.

“Space is less regulated than maritime practices. It used to be just the United States and Russia, but now multiple nations are involved, and some are more saber-rattle-y than others. Plus, you have profit-minded corporations involved. Before we can talk about launching more things, there needs to be a better plan. If not, we could be in a world of hurt. It’s like what we’ve done with some fish populations or forests – someone needs to put together a plan, or things could be wiped out.”

That said, Solontoi did offer one other prediction regarding space exploration.

“Someone will launch an interstellar probe using solar sail technology,” he said. “You can push something using light. Using a laser, you can push something, and that can be done in space with a giant sail that’s propelled using the sun’s light.”

Back to News & Events

Did you know?

  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers several international trips each year during 2-week Scots Terms in January and May. Recently students have traveled to Botswana, Greece, Scotland, Japan, and more. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="https://monmouthcollege.edu/offices/global-engagement/" target="_blank">Scots Term</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers unique academic minors in Global Public Health and Global Food Security for students who want to use their education to address global challenges. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-public-health/" target="_blank">Global Public Health</a></li><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-food-security/" target="_blank">Global Food Security</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We’re no stranger to winning. Last year the Fighting Scots won Midwest Conference championships in Football, Women’s Soccer, Women’s Basketball and Men’s Track and Field. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="https://monmouthscots.com/" target="_blank">Fighting Scots</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an active Pipe & Drum Band. Each year on Scholar’s Day in April the bagpipers wake students up at 6:00 a.m. by playing in the residence halls!</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/music/pipe-band/" target="_blank">Pipe Band</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We offer a certified Peace Corps Preparation program that gives Peace Corps bound graduates a leg up in the application process.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/peace-corps-prep/" target="_blank">Peace Corps Prep</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 99% of Monmouth students received some type of scholarship or financial assistance.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/offices/student-financial-planning/types-of-aid/scholarships/" target="_blank">Scholarships</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College is proudly test optional. Applicants may choose whether or to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission and scholarship consideration. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/admission/apply/test-optional/" target="_blank">Test Optional</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p><strong>Monmouth College is the birthplace of the women’s fraternity movement. Pi Beta Phi, the first such collegiate women’s organization, was founded at Monmouth in 1867. It was followed three years later by Kappa Kappa Gamma. The two pioneering organizations today boast a total of 275 active chapters nationwide.</strong></p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/student-life/sororities-fraternities/" target="_blank">Sororities & Fraternities</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College covers the cost for all current students to get a U.S. passport. Unlock access to over 198 different countries! We’ll even help with the paperwork :)</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/study-abroad/" target="_blank">Study Abroad</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an educational garden and 6.7 acre farm. Students grow and harvest fruits and vegetables to sell at the local farmer’s market. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="https://monmouthcollege.edu/academics/only-at-monmouth/educational-garden-farm/" target="_blank">Garden & Farm</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 98% of Monmouth graduates were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/wackerle-center/career-services/" target="_blank">Career Preparation</a></li></ul></div></aside>