Twentieth Century Fox Film
X-Men: First Class The fifth in this popular series of comic-book spin-offs is a prequel: In the early 1960s, super-psychic Charles Xavier secretly establishes a school for genetic mutants with extraordinary powers. As the young mutants learn to harness their abilities, they form alliances that will divide the group into the well-meaning X-Men and their nefarious rivals, the Brotherhood of Mutants.
Science Fiction To shuttle the mutants around the country, Xavier commissions the creation of the X-Jet, a stealth aircraft that has the coast-to-coast range of an SR-71 Blackbird and the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of the V-22 Osprey. It can also reach a top speed of 3,234 mph.
Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics
Story: After chasing down a fallen spacecraft on the California coast, pilot Hal Jordan discovers a ring that grants him extraordinary powers. In accepting it, Jordan becomes the first human to serve as a Green Lantern, a guardian that protects the universe from evil--in this case, the mad scientist Dr. Hector Hammond.
Science Fiction: The ring takes its orders from Jordan’s mind, enabling him to fly, knock multiple bad guys off their feet, and even create wormholes through which he can travel thousands of light-years within minutes.
Science Fact: People can indeed control machines
with brain signals. Johns Hopkins University scientists are conducting
clinical trials for the Modular Prosthetic Limb, a robotic arm operated
by the user’s thoughts. But the ring’s ability to generate shortcuts
across the universe raises more questions. “Wormholes are possible in
principle,” says physicist Eric Davis of the Institute of Advanced
Studies, a think tank in Austin, Texas, but creating them takes a
tremendous amount of negative energy. It would take the mass equivalent
of –71 percent of Jupiter to create a wormhole suitable for travel.
Producer Donald De Line explains that a Green Lantern’s ring derives its
energy from a battery on the alien planet Oa. “The battery stores the
collected willpower from around the universe,” he says.
Note to NASA: Find Oa, solve energy crisis.
Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures
Story: The Autobots, the good half of a race of shape-shifting alien robots, learn of a secret spacecraft hidden on the moon. The vessel’s contents, which may include former Transformer leader Sentinel Prime, could decide the outcome of the imminent war between the Autobots and their evil half, the Decepticons.
Science Fiction: Autobots and Decepticons rapidly transform from two- to three-story-tall humanoids into cars, trucks and fighter jets.
Science Fact: “We’re a long way from Transformers,” says Carnegie Mellon University roboticist Seth Copen Goldstein, but radically shape-shifting machines are on the distant horizon. He suggests that instead of sending several specialized rovers to Mars, NASA could dispatch a multipurpose robot that could morph from a rover into a hut. These machines would be made from millions of autonomous, adjustable modules. Goldstein’s group is already developing such a module: a millimeter-scale cylinder made from a rolled-up computer chip. He hopes to program several of them to form simple shapes, such as a pyramid.