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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Bookmakers slash odds on science
Titan (Nasa/JPL/Space Science Institute)
Odds are 10,000/1 for life being found on the Saturn moon Titan (Image: Nasa/JPL/SSI)
The chances of scientists making one of five remarkable discoveries by 2010 have been hugely underestimated, according to bookmakers.

Ladbrokes says it has had to slash the odds for one of the breakthroughs - the first detection of gravitational waves - after a rush of bets from punters.

The five also include intelligent life being found on one of Saturn's moons and fusion power stations being built.

Another of the possible breakthroughs is understanding cosmic rays' origins.

We have been knocked over with the interest over this
It has the shortest odds, currently set at 4/1.

Next up is the discovery of the Higgs boson, an elusive particle said to endow all others with mass. Its odds are 6/1.

'No chance'

The big outsider in this game is the possibility of life being found on the Saturnian satellite Titan. Those odds remain at 10,000/1.

But the odds of detecting gravitational waves - ripples in space-time caused by the movement of truly massive objects in the Universe such as black holes orbiting each other - proved to be over-generous.

Possibility of life on Titan - 10,000/1
Building a fusion power plant - 50/1
Detecting gravitational waves - 6/1
Finding the Higgs boson - 6/1
Understanding cosmic rays - 4/1
According to Ladbrokes, the original odds were set at 500/1. But these were then cut to 10/1 following huge interest from punters.

Spokesman Warren Lush told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We had to shorten odds to 10/1 but when I was asking physicists about this they were very, very divided; and 80% of those I spoke to thought it had no chance of being discovered by 2010."

But Professor James Hough, of the University of Glasgow, believes the chances of a gravitational wave detection are even higher than the latest odds suggest.

He said: "It is more like odds of 5/1 or 2/1. I think it is a great investment.

"I have been working in the field for a number of years and experiments are just getting to the stage where first results are possible.

"They are not guaranteed yet. That will not be true until after 2010 but still the chances are very high from the present experiments."

Further interest on Tuesday forced Ladbrookes to cuts the odds to 6/1.

Who's right?

The huge Ligo (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) facility built in the US is now online and approaching the sensitivities scientists believe will be necessary to detect gravitational waves.

The European Virgo and Geo 600 labs also have a good chance of catching the waves before 2010.

Ladbrokes set its odds for scientific discoveries after it consulted a number of experts. But the company was surprised by the interest attracted in this particular field.

Mr Lush said: "We have been knocked over with the interest over this.

"The New Scientist Magazine and Dr Valerie Jamieson approached me to do this and since then I have had random phone calls from professors who are either telling me I am right or very, very wrong."

Professor James Hough
"I think the odds on the discovery of gravitational waves is about five to one"

Cassini peers into Titan's haze
02 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature
Particle collider edges forward
20 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature
Mission's path to new astronomy
24 Jun 04  |  Science/Nature
Gravity wave detector all set
18 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature

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