April 20, 2013 | 4:59 p.m.
Tom Cruise is expected to win the weekend at the box office with his new sci-fi outing “Oblivion,” which has garnered some notably warm reviews. The Times’ Kenneth Turan, for example, described the movie as a “throwback to the days when on-screen science fiction was about speculative ideas rather than selling toys to tots.” After an early IMAX screening of the Universal film in New York this week, Cruise and “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) talked about their on-set collaboration as one of the secrets to the movie’s creative success. “I don’t know how you wouldn’t collaborate with your actors,” Kosinski told Hero Complex contributor Rebecca Keegan during an interactive Q&A in which people nationwide were invited to participate via Twitter. “They are telling your story for you. It’s so important that the director and the actors are all […]
March 22, 2013 | 9:04 a.m.
Curiosity may be sitting idle during the solar conjunction (more on that below), but there’s fresh Mars-focused news. Researchers have suggested the rover could use a friend — a scuttling lizard robot. Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology reportedly came up with a robot whose appendages were inspired by lizards (as opposed to, say, the Hoth walkers from “The Empire Strikes Back,” which were obviously inspired by elephants). The legs of the bot are designed to scamper over — not wade through — sand. Don’t laugh. You’ll recall the fate of the Spirit rover on Mars– stuck in sand. Spirit, which landed on Mars in 2004, became ensnared in soft sand in 2009. NASA tried to wiggle it free for months, but in 2010 the rover was declared officially entombed. The rotating legs of the new robot work a […]
March 20, 2013 | 6:48 p.m.
People of Earth, beware: There is a 30% chance that an asteroid the size of the one that exploded over Russia or bigger will hit our planet in the next 100 years, former astronaut Ed Lu, told a U.S. Senate sub-committee Wednesday. “Yes, most of the Earth is unpopulated and we could get lucky,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be a shame if the area of the next impact wasn’t unpopulated?” Lu currently heads the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “protecting humanity from asteroid impacts.” The foundation plans to build and launch the Sentinel, a space-based telescope the size of a Fed-Ex moving van. It will orbit the sun and from that vantage point catalog 90% of near-Earth objects that are 140 meters or larger. He was speaking at a hearing titled “Assessing the Risks, Impacts, and Solutions for […]
March 19, 2013 | 8:50 a.m.
The Mars rover Curiosity has gotten glitchy again, but NASA is downplaying the significance of the latest bug. In just a few days, the space agency says, Curiosity will be back in business. The culprit in the latest computer problem was a “software issue” that landed the rover in safe mode again. NASA has stressed that this was Curiosity’s idea. When a “command file failed a size-check by the rover’s protective software,” NASA says, the rover automatically went into “precautionary standby” mode. “This is a very straightforward matter,” Richard Cook, project manager for the rover, said in a news release. It just means deleting a file. But it’s slowing things down. Curiosity has accomplished a primary goal of the mission — finding that ancient Mars was indeed habitable — without accomplishing another thing we’ve all been waiting for: arriving at […]
March 18, 2013 | 1:42 p.m.
Do you enjoy waking up in your self-functioning house, coffee already prepared, your “personalized home newspaper” printed out and your robot cheerfully scurrying about the house doing chores? No? Then it turns out several of the L.A. Times Magazine’s predictions in 1988 of what 2013 would be like haven’t come true. That’s not to say that this bit of archival gold isn’t without merit – after all, the notion of a “personalized home newspaper” rings especially true amid the outcry over Google’s decision to end its news-aggregating Google Reader. But we haven’t yet seen the likes of home robot Billy Rae. “With a twitch, ‘Billy Rae,’ the Morrows’ mobile home robot, unplugs himself from the kitchen wall outlet … then wheels out of the kitchen and down the hall toward the master bedroom for his first task of the day. […]
March 18, 2013 | 11:34 a.m.
Rock band 30 Seconds to Mars has launched its new single, “Up in the Air,” in a memorable way — they sent a CD to the International Space Station. On Monday, they got to watch their CD spinning weightlessly through the air on the ISS. “That’s a moment that we’ll never forget right there,” said frontman Jared Leto. “Thank you so much for spinning that around.” Leto and Mars bandmates Shannon Leto (Jared’s brother) and Tomo Milicevic were at Mission Control in Houston on Monday, where they were piped in to the ISS and spoke with U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn. The band’s single is released Tuesday, and their new album, “Love Lust Faith + Dreams,” will be out May 21. “Do you ever listen to music up there?” Jared Leto asked Marshburn. “I do, during workouts,” he said and noted that […]
March 17, 2013 | 12:33 p.m.
Bat-eating spiders are virtually everywhere, a new study has found. The only place bats are safe from these grasping arachnids is Antarctica. And bats don’t live in Antarctica. It’s enough to make you feel sorry for bats. The study, published last week in the journal Plos One, says: “Incidences of bats being captured by spiders have been reported from virtually every continent with the exception of Antarctica.” Reports include bats being hunted down and captured by tarantulas and other hunting spiders. Otherwise, crafty arachnids have built their webs where the bats will become entangled — and then become lunch. “The dominant group of bat-catching spiders are giant orb-weavers of the genus Nephila,” the report states. These forest-dwelling spiders have a leg span of 4 to 6 inches and can weigh as much as 7 grams. “Feeding was found to be […]
March 16, 2013 | 11:18 a.m.
Google Glass — Sergey Brin’s video-recording, personal-computing, augmented-reality baby – has stirred the Big Brother fears. It seems the more technology advances, the more we live in a sci-fi world, one where privacy is a quaint horse-and-buggy notion. The ability — and the inclination — to keep information to ourselves seems to be slipping away with each new innovation. The question is: Does it matter? Award-winning sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer, in a 2002 essay in Maclean’s, seemed prescient about Google Glass. He wrote of the possibility of an “implant” with a “tiny audiovisual recorder.” The resulting video would be kept at a “centralized facility.” He imagined that such video would bring about a vast reduction in crime. If everyone’s actions were recorded, “for their eyes only, unless a proper court demanded otherwise,” crime would plummet. After all, he reasoned, […]
March 12, 2013 | 1:13 p.m.
Ancient Mars was so conducive to life that you might have been able to scoop up the water and drink it. So say NASA scientists, who are thrilled that Curiosity has solved this mystery: Could there have been life on Mars? Yes. “A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, in a news release. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.” At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, mission lead scientist John Grotzinger said signs pointed to an ancient environment “so benign” and “so supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it.” Curiosity tweeted: I was sent to Mars to find evidence of […]
March 08, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.
Want to see a comet move through the night sky? You’re in luck. Comet Pan-STARRS has just become visible in the northern hemisphere. And here’s the best part: You won’t even need a telescope to see the show. Scientists say the coma, or gaseous material surrounding the nucleus of the comet, should be as bright as the stars of the big dipper constellation and totally visible to the naked eye. But you will need a pair of regular birding binoculars in order to see the comet’s tail. The comet will only be visible low in the sky, so you’ll need to find a location that gives you a clear view of the western horizon. Even small hills and buildings will likely obstruct your view. Look in the direction of the sunset, just after the sun has gone down. The star […]