This Is The End And The Last Of Us End The World In Style: This Week In Science Fiction

TheEndIt probably says a lot about the cynicism of modern life that apocalyptic tales are so en vogue right now. The Walking Dead is a massive hit on AMC, and just in the past few months, we’ve seen two different interpretations of a post-human Earth in Oblivion and After Earth. The massive, massively troubled World War Z hits later this month, but first we’ve got two very different looks at the end of the world arriving this week: This Is the End in theaters and The Last of Us on the PlayStation 3.

This Is the End is definitely the lighter of the two forays into Armageddon. It’s a comedy the begins in a hip, celebrity-packed party at the house of James Franco’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Unfortunately, the party takes a sour turn when some unspecified apocalypse breaks out, leaving the likes of Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson to try and figure out what the hell — or should that be Hell? — is going on and attempt to survive to see the next day. Already we’ve seen Michael Cera murdered in a brutal and amusing manner, and Emma Watson losing her shit as the world collapses around her. As with any comedy, it will all come down to execution, but so far the trailers have looked solid and it’s hard to go wrong with this many funny people filling out the cast.


Robot Used To Prove Zebrafish Don’t Wear Beer Goggles

zPeople use the phrase “drink like a fish” without thinking about what it really means. They’re only taking one part of the equation into consideration. What we should be saying is, “Get hungover like a fish,” since fish never seem to be hungover. Perhaps we need to rethink the entire drinking thing. But that just sounds like sobriety.

After noticing that zerbrafish were oblivious when a crudely painted robo-fish was added into the mix, NYU-Poly’s Dynamic Systems Lab director Maurizio Porfiri began experimenting by putting the fish into tanks filled with varying amounts of ethanol. Sure, it was to test the level of companionship and attention given to the robo-fish, but also because all the fish’s older brothers and best friends said they would be total spazzes if they didn’t get ripped. (We picture this guy as the older brother.)

Strangely, the intoxication generally caused the fish to avoid contact with the robo-fish, which was made to resemble the opposite sex. They chose to swim around by themselves. Total loners, but with hearts of gold. Because this experiment successfully established a baseline for a controlled delivery of ethanol, it will serve as the foundation for further studies using the zebrafish, which have been a rising star in the scientific community as an alternative to the common lab mouse. Next up on the agenda is adding predators into the mix and testing reactions to danger. Just give them time to sober up first.

(Thanks to DVICE for the story, and for that one night in that Tijuana fish tank.)


MIT Researchers Are Working On Ionic Thrusters That Could Power Aircraft

ionic thrustWith the rising cost of jet fuel, scientists are always searching for alternative technology and power sources. Researchers at MIT are looking at ionic thrust technology to bridge the gap between jet fuel and propulsion efficiency.

The technology behind “ionic wind,” or electro-hydrodynamic thrust, was first discovered in the 1960s. Because of limitations in technology at the time, it was never considered a viable resource, because it would require massive amounts of voltage to sustain air flight. Now, however, researchers believe they may have found the key to unlocking the possibilities of electro-hydrodynamic thrust, or ionic thrust.

Here’s how it works, via MIT News: “When a current passes between two electrodes — one thinner than the other — it creates a wind in the air between. If enough voltage is applied, the resulting wind can produce a thrust without the help of motors or fuel.” Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, believes ionic wind can be used to fuel and propel a small, lightweight aircraft.


J.J. Abrams Wants To Honor Star Wars Mythology, But Not Revere It

Star WarsNow that Star Trek Into Darkness has been in U.S. theaters for about a month now, director J.J. Abrams is making the transition from Star Trek to Star Wars. Production on Star Wars: Episode VII is scheduled to begin in early 2014 in London, England, and Abrams is planning to pack up his gear to move his family across the Atlantic.

As reported in Variety, during the Producers Guild of America’s conference, Abrams spoke briefly about the forthcoming Star Wars sequel. As casting gets started on the seventh installment in the Star Wars film franchise, there are still some big question marks about what the new film’s narrative and cast of characters. When asked about how he will handle Star Wars‘ deep and rich mythology, Abrams answered, “I think that the thing is so big and so massive to so many people that the key to moving forward is honoring but not revering what went before.”

It seems as if J.J. Abrams might do the same thing to Star Wars as he did to Star Trek. In 2009, when Abrams’ first Star Trek film was released, it was a genuine surprise that the director incorporated so much Star Trek mythology, while at the same time delivering a movie that was fresh and exciting for general audiences and Star Trek fans alike. Let’s hope J.J. Abrams can re-create that spirit again with Star Wars: Episode VII.


NASA Sun Study Mission Launches This Month

IRISRemember the movie Sunshine? Danny Boyle’s science fiction film followed a manned mission to the Sun, and while that’s still in the realm of science fiction, NASA scientists are planning to launch a 400-pound probe to observe the Sun. Thankfully they’ll aren’t trying to re-ignite it with a nuclear weapon.

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is scheduled to launch on June 26, 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its mission is to study the Sun’s corona, or upper layer of atmosphere, which emits temperatures of about 1 million Kelvins (about 1.8 million Fahrenheit). Surprisingly, the Sun’s corona is actually much hotter than its surface. Relative to the Sun’s overall size, the corona is about 3,000 to 6,000 miles thick. According to Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

IRIS will extend our observations of the sun to a region that has historically been difficult to study. Understanding the interface region better improves our understanding of the whole corona and, in turn, how it affects the solar system.


LEGO And NASA Want Your Designs For Future Spacecraft

legoLife imitates art, and art imitates life. What about toys equal future, and future equals toys? Besides making me sound like I have something missing upstairs, that notion is the product of an all-caps partnership between LEGO and NASA that indirectly highlights how important having a hobby can be.

From now until the morning of July 31, 2013, LEGO and science enthusiasts can enter a design into NASA’s Missions: Imagine and Build program, with prizes given from both organizations. There are two different categories for you to enter, assuming you match the age requirements. The judges include LEGO execs, as well as an as-yet-unnamed NASA astronaut and another NASA expert.

“Imagine Our Future Beyond Earth” invites anyone 16 and older to open their imagination up to the universe and design what future NASA missions should look like. Of course, the imagination should be tethered to existing mission plans taking place through the 2030s. Remember to keep it classy as well. Rockets are already phallic, so there’s no reason to go overboard. The grand prize winners gets the LEGO CUUSOO Hayabusa kit (modeled after the unmanned Japanese craft) signed by its designer Melody Louise Caddick, recognition and honorable mention on NASA.gov, and a personalized signed lithograph of the unnamed astronaut judge.