Pixar worked its magic this weekend, shooting to the top of the box office for the ninth consecutive time with WALL-E. And deservedly so–the movie pulls you into its world, and anybody whose heart doesn’t go out to the title character has a soul made of burnt toast. WALL-E is the name of the last robot left cleaning up the garbage-strewn Earth. All the humans left for an intergalactic cruise while the planet was getting spruced up, but the cruise has been going on for 700 years now with no end in sight.
Used to being pampered by robots and never leaving their hover-chairs, the humans have gotten a little bit portly over the centuries, and now find it difficult to even walk (if it ever occured to them to do so). Which is a problem that lurks in the minds of the people who are planning real-life expeditions to Mars.
U.S. viewers of Doctor Who are currently being treated to a goosebump-inducing two-parter penned by Steven Moffat, who also wrote the genuinely terrifying “The Empty Child” episode a few seasons back. In his latest offering, Moffat presents us with a library haunted by flesh-eating shadows. The library itself is a wonderful conceit: in the 51st century, e-books and neural downloads and [insert exotic paperless technology here], are all so ho-hum that the people of the future decide to reprint every book ever published on good old fashioned paper. Not surprisingly, it takes an entire planet to store the resulting tomes.
It all sounds completely absurd until you realise that books are currently holding up a lot better than digital technologies when it comes to long-term archiving.
One of my favorite science-fiction movie scenes is the opening sequence of Armageddon, which depicts the asteroid impact that marked the end of The Dinosaur Show. After the impact, hellfire rains down across the globe in deadly, but photogenic, fashion.
But as impressive a visual as that scence is, it is small beans compared to what scientist think might have actually happened to Mars. After sifting through huge amounts of data sent back from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Global Surveyor probes, scientists believe they are closer to an explanation of one of the great puzzles of the solar system: why the northern hemisphere of the planet is so different from the southern hemisphere.
The southern hemisphere is a jangle of ancient and rough terrain. The surface of northern hemisphere is much younger, and one of the flatest places in the solar system. Suggested explanations include the notion that the northern hemisphere is the sea bed of long-vanished ocean, that lava flows from the interior smoothed out the surface, or that it’s actually just a really big crater from a really, really big asteroid.
A new analysis of the shape of the Northern plain that (and this was the hard part) took into account later volcanic action that distorted the outline over the eons has put considerable weight behind the crater theory. This would make Mars host to the largest crater in the solar system and give us new insight into just how dangerous the early solar system was—it’s believed that an even bigger asteroid collided with the Earth, splitting the planet completely open and splashing off gobs of material that later formed our moon.
One of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters is undoubtedly Wolverine, the enigmatic Canadian special agent-turned-X-Man (think Hugh Jackman) with the bad-ass claws—long, super-strong knives, essentially, that extend out from his knuckles when he’s fixing to apply a beat-down. (Back when I was a kid, the claws were reputed to be surgically implanted by a twisted project run by the Canadian government, but they were later revealed to be a natural part of his mutant skeleton. Duh.) But someone forgot to tell the skin on his knuckles about those claws—every time they come out to play, they just slice right through the obstructing flesh.
Now it turns out that there are 11 species of frog with a very similar ability: When the little amphibians are threatened, they flex a muscle that actually extends a barbed piece of bone out through the skin on their fingers and attack with their newly exposed weapons.
Lee Billings has an interesting essay in SEED this month on how extraterrestrials would locate Earth from elsewhere in the universe.
“As the probe approached, gaps in the clouds far below revealed continents scattered amidst a world-girdling ocean. In a vast cosmic desert, this was an oasis. The probe sampled the atmosphere, finding abundant oxygen and traces of methane. Chemistry dictates that the two reactive gases could never coexist for long; something was replenishing them. Analyzing starlight reflected off the land, it saw regions absorbing light at wavelengths corresponding to no known non-biological process. Perhaps this was vegetation. The spacecraft also detected powerful, modulated radio emissions from the surface—almost certainly a sign of substantial technology. There was life on this planet, and at least some of it seemed intelligent.”
The probe he’s talking about is the 1990 Galileo spacecraft detecting Earth on its way to Jupiter. No mention of any guideposts set up by the gods or the 12th Cylon, but a fascinating piece nonetheless.
In advance of its June 27 opening, the animation geniuses who brought us Toy Story and Finding Nemo have put up trailers for their latest movie, a science-fiction affair called WALL-E. The eponymous hero is a janitorial robot, left behind on Earth to clean up our mess after humans depart for space. From the clips online, WALL-E is irresistibly adorable, and it appears unlikely he’ll end up wracking genocidal violence against his creators in the full theatrical release, but one never knows: after a few centuries of picking up someone else’s garbage, who wouldn’t be a little tetchy?
… or if you prefer, “The UK X-Files.”