May 28, 2004 | 3 p.m. ET
The deliciously baddest movies:
Today is the big day for "The Day After Tomorrow" — the disaster movie based on the idea that higher global temperatures could set off a new ice age. The flick is only the latest Hollywood offering to touch off a scientific and/or political debate as well — just as "The China Syndrome" did for nuclear power, or "Armageddon" did for the asteroid threat.

So maybe the science behind "The Day After Tomorrow" is somewhat shaky, based on what we know about global climate patterns. This week, one expert went so far as to call it a case of "shameless scientific prostitution." But instead of tut-tutting over the scientific shortcomings, let's take this opportunity to celebrate silly science.

Last week, we asked readers to send in "deliciously bad" plotlines for science-fiction disaster movies, in the mold of "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Armageddon" as well as the recent seismic howlers "10.5" and "The Core." Today we offer up six finalists (as well as some bonus selections).

In the grand scientific tradition of "American Idol," it's up to you to choose the winner. Read through the plot synopses and select your favorite in the Live Vote below. The top vote-getter as of noon ET June 4 will be crowned the baddest of the bad and receive the screening tapes for "10.5." The second-place winner will get a slightly rumpled paperback novelization of "The Day After Tomorrow."

Check out last week's call for entries if you need a refresher on the criteria. A couple of Cosmic Log readers noted that last week's sample entry, "Armageddon II: Nemesis Rising," could be seen as a rip-off of Isaac Asimov's "Nemesis" or the deliciously bad Japanese movie "Gorath." That just goes to show that, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there's nothing new under the exploding, planet-killing sun.

Many thanks to everyone who submitted entries. It's good to know there’s so much bad talent out there — Hollywood will never be in short supply. And now, the deliciously bad finalists:

"Armageddon II: Nemesis Rising"
(Screenplay by D. Williams)
The "Harmonic Convergence" of the last century had an unseen effect. Nemesis, our sun's long-sought dark companion, has been pulled out of its orbit and is now heading for Earth. Unable to blow up a stellar object, mankind is left with one choice:

Move the planet.

Powered by the revolutionary ice fusion power source, Antarctica is burned to push the Earth out of danger. Our heroes head to Antarctica to construct the housing for the "World Engine." Can they meet the deadline? Can the earth be saved? Can Greenpeace save the penguins before their home is torched?

(Screenplay by Stuart Marcus)
In an attempt to capitalize on the recent trends in both escapist science fiction and violent religiously themed films, director-actor Mel Gibson has teamed up with Steven Spielberg. This highly implausible but entertaining space opera-cum-crucifixion drama examines the premise that Jesus and ET were one and the same person (ET was resurrected, after all).  In this sequel, we first find ourselves in Calvary at the time of the Crucifixion.  The body of Jesus (unconvincingly played by Ethan Hawke) is removed from the cross and placed in the tomb, where a strange transformation takes place to that lovable flexible-necked creature with the healing finger of light that we all know.  ET/JC (or "EC," as he is known to his friends) is teleported to his spaceship (the Ascension) and returns to his home planet, where he continues to be troubled by thoughts of Earth and the primitively spiritual beings that live there.  He convinces the authorities that he needs to return, but thanks to the relativistic problems of a runaway hyperdrive, arrives 2,010 years later.  The film then explores his wandering in the woods, where he meets the Tucks and gives them Everlasting life (they also get their own movie), and the movie ends when EC comes upon a trail of Reese's Pieces leading to a shed...

"Mars Re-Attacks"
(Screenplay by John Pugliese)
The Martians have overcome their susceptibility to country music and launch another attack, only to be thwarted by the oldest remedy known to man ... vinegar and water. Since the Martians have only icecaps, the liquid combo dissolves them on contact and cleans up the residue at the same time for a fresh feeling of victory.

(Screenplay by William Mari)
The first generation of cloned sheep, long neglected, have been prematurely aging. Unbeknownst to scientists, their brains have been swelling as well, and now they are brilliant, bitter and geriatric. They want revenge. No more cute and cuddly. These former "experiments" plot a global takeover, starting in Scotland, and will stop at nothing until all of humanity have become their slaves (they wish to harvest our hair for sheep clothes). Ironic, is it not?

Production notes: this is a live-action, TV movie. Suggested casting: Mark Wahlberg as Diabolical Lead Sheep, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the American President.

"Sunspot: The Motion Picture Event"
(Screenplay by James Byrkit)
A huge flare-up of solar spew is predicted by scientists and confirmed by a special-effects extravaganza, all before the opening title sequence of the film. Cosmologist Naomi Watts, special adviser to the president, decides to bypass the bureaucracy of NASA and head straight to Colin Farrell's independently run "SpaceFun!" interplanetary travel company to head off the impending TEAT (Total Earth Annihilation Trip).

Their mission: a one-way journey to the middle of the sun! Physically impossible, yes. But it's worth a shot. Using a complex hybrid of particle generators, flavor crystals and photon accelerators, this hotshot team is the last hope for humanity.

Along the way, they team up with Paris Hilton, marooned on a defunct Russian space station as part of a canceled reality show. She helps them understand the true nature of friendship, and helps them learn a lesson in bravery against all odds. Needless to say, the mission is a success, and the sun is calmed with a nuclear device that incorporates ginseng and relaxation tapes.

"Terminator 4: He Won't Be Back"
(Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
and Britney Spears;
screenplay by Jerry Kwit)
After three unsuccessful attempts to kill John Connor, the Machines finally wise up! They don't send any terminators back in time to kill Sarah, so there's no reason to send Kyle back in time and John Connor is never born.  Sarah Connor becomes a women's advocate, and after a successful lawsuit against the governor of California for sexual harassment, she writes several laughable sci-fi novels which are turned into multimillion-dollar movies, before the machines launch a surprise attack and wipe out the human race in 2010.

... And some bonus selections
There were so many deliciously bad (and, truth be told, just plain bad) entries that I couldn't resist including some additional entries. Click here to get a peek at "The Night After Tomorrow," "Fried Green Killer Tomatoes" and more. While you're clicking around, cast your vote for the top disaster movie and take The Guardian's disaster-movie trivia quiz.

May 28, 2004 | 3 p.m.
Field trips for the Memorial Day weekend:

National Geographic: Untold stories of D-Day
Defense Tech: Navy's boatload of gadgets
History Channel: "Band of Brothers"
PBS: The National Memorial Day Concert

May 27, 2004 | 9:20 p.m. ET
Take a Titanic trip:
When marine scientist/explorer Robert Ballard returns to the scene of the Titanic shipwreck he helped find almost two decades ago, you'll be able to follow the adventure online — thanks to the five partners in the "Return to Titanic" expedition.

The research ship Ronald H. Brown sailed out of Boston today, beginning the journey — and the flow of dispatches, photos and other Titanic goodies began as well, courtesy of the National Geographic Channel. You can sign up to have the daily dispatches sent to your computer or cell phone. On June 7, the channel will broadcast a "Return to Titanic" TV special that will include live coverage from Titanic's resting place, 12,000 feet (3,650 meters) beneath the Atlantic Ocean's surface.

NOAA Ocean Explorer is providing school lesson plans tied to the expedition. The Jason Foundation, Ballard's brainchild, is featuring daily video diaries and slideshows as well as tons of cool online activities for kids. Thousands of students will participate in a high-bandwidth, two-way experience through daily "Titanic Live!" shows, presented by the Mystic Aquarium at 150 Immersion Project sites across the United States. The University of Rhode Island, Ballard's academic and research home, is providing additional material for classroom activities and interactive learning.

The online expedition, due to run until June 12, could shed new light on the rapidly decomposing wreck. The past 19 years have not been kind to the Titanic, in part because of undersea tourism and salvaging. Ballard and his colleagues will try to determine just how much has been lost.

"We can see what was natural change … and what has been caused by human activities," Ballard told National Geographic.

For more reflections on the 92-year-old Titanic's troubles, check out this archived Cosmic Log item.

May 27, 2004 | 9:20 p.m. ET
Crew for an Arctic Mars:
The Mars Society has selected the crew for its annual summer Mars mission simulation in the Canadian Arctic. Crew commander will be Jason Held, an Army captain in the U.S. Space Command, and other members include Polish paleontologist Blajez Blazejowski, Hungarian geologist Ákos Kereszturi, Kentucky computer engineer Judd Reed, California microbiologist Shannon Rupert Robles and journalists Joan Roch and Louise Wynn.

This year's crew, like their predecessors over the past four years, will conduct scientific treks and other activities aimed at testing  tools and techniques that may come into play during a future human mission to Mars. The four-week expedition will begin in early July. Check out the Mars Arctic Research Station Web site for details. To get a better sense of how the simulated missions work, dip into Steve Featherstone's diary from a desert Mars expedition in Utah, featured this week on Slate. And to get an even better sense, delve into the book "Mars on Earth."

May 27, 2004 | 9:20 p.m. ET
Space race update:
When will the SpaceShipOne rocket plane fly beyond 100 kilometers in altituded and break the space barrier? The latest speculation, attributed by HobbySpace's Clark Lindsey to Armadillo Aerospace's John Carmack, backs up the theory that the privately developed craft could make its first true spaceflight as part of a pre-X Prize test, without the extra ballast or the other trappings required to win the $10 million purse.

May 27, 2004 | 9:20 p.m. ET
More journeys on the scientific Web:
New Scientist: How to replace a face E-vote printers' high-stakes test
The Guardian: Death, glory and particle physics
BBC: Flying into a silent sky future

May 26, 2004 | 9:30 p.m. ET
Saturn near and far:
NASA's Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope have double-teamed the ringed planet — producing a pair of images that will whet your appetite for more wonders.

The view from Hubble was snapped by its Advanced Camera for Surveys in March, from a distance of about 830 million miles (1.3 billion kilometers). Cassini took its snapshot with its narrow-angle camera 10 days ago, when it was about 13 million miles (21 million kilometers) away and closing in.

Image: Hubble view of Saturn
NASA / ESA / Univ. of Arizona
Hubble's view highlights Saturn's ammonia-methane clouds.
The resolution of the two pictures is roughly the same — which is a testament to Hubble's exquisite optics.

Both pictures were processed by combining imagery taken with several filters — and the different filter combinations are what account for the color differences.

From its near-Earth orbit, Hubble gets a full-frontal view of Saturn's rings, while Cassini has a markedly different perspective.

In the large-format version of the Cassini image, Enceladus, one of Saturn's 31 known moons, can be seen as a circular speck near the planet's south pole.

Day by day, Cassini's resolution is improving as it nears Saturn. The spacecraft is due to fly up through a gap in the rings, then fire its engine starting at 10:36 p.m. ET June 30. The nearly two-hour burn will put the bus-sized spacecraft into a wide-ranging orbit around the planet.

Image: Cassini view of Saturn
Saturn fills the frame in Cassini's view.
Earlier this week, I noted that the Cassini imaging team has begun posting pictures of Saturn and its environs more frequently — and indeed, the team's imaging diary has had daily entries since then. Check out the views of Saturn's gossamer rings and its swirling cloud patterns.

And as long as you're clicking around, check out Hubble's portfolio of Saturn snapshots, going all the way back to 1990. One of those shots is featured in our own slideshow of Hubble's Hits — and you can look forward to a fresh batch of "Greatest Hits From Saturn" next week.

May 26, 2004 | 9:30 p.m. ET
Scientific smorgasbord on the World Wide Web:
Popular Science: The new science of cell hacking
The Independent: Titanic explorer criticizes 'circus'
National Geographic: The rituals of Himalayan oracles
EETimes: Sticky sensors may save soldiers' lives

May 25, 2004 | 7:30 p.m. ET
Small-size X Prize:
Are you a fan of Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne rocket plane in the Mojave Desert? Or the "Space Dudes" of Space Transport Corp. in the forests of the Pacific Northwest? How about the Canadian Arrow of the Great White North, or Britain's Starchaser? All these entrants in the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition for private spaceflight have been re-created on a smaller scale as part of Estes Industries' latest crop of model rockets.

The X Prize model-rocket line was announced just this month, and today the X Prize Foundation said Estes also would produce an assortment of collectible die-cast rockets.

"All of us at X Prize Foundation — and most of our registered team members — built Estes rockets during our careers," Gregg Maryniak, the foundation's executive director, noted in today's announcement. "It's a pleasure to have Estes as a new education partner."

Marketing materials for the X Prize models can be found on the first and second of three pages posted by Ye Olde Rocket Shoppe. The "Top Secret" craft shown on the second page clearly represents SpaceShipOne, but apparently the licensing arrangements hadn't been completed by the time the page went to press. Notable omissions from Estes' list include the Black Armadillo and the da Vinci Project's balloon-launched craft (now that'd be a cool trick for a model rocket ... but kids, don't try this at home).

The third page features Estes' other goodies, including the Oracle, which is capable of taking digital video from 800 feet (245 meters) up.

This is a big month for model-rocket enthusiasts, highlighted by last weekend's Team America Rocketry Challenge in Virginia. About 600 students competed in the finals, and the first-place winners were a trio of freshmen from Penn Manor High School in Lancaster, Pa., who sent their custom-made craft precisely to the target altitude of 1,250 feet (381 meters).  Cam Aument, Benjamin Raush and Bob O’Connor, along with other top winners, will share a prize pool amounting to $60,000.

As for the much bigger Ansari X Prize, this summer still looks like prime time for SpaceShipOne to crack the 62-mile (100-kilometer) altitude barrier and set the stage for winning the $10 million. But Rutan's team may well send the craft on its first bona fide spaceflight as part of a test, rather than during a certified prize attempt. The schedule could become clearer in the next week or so. Brace yourselves to hear more about the missions, as well as the merchandising that will inevitably follow.

May 25, 2004 | 7:30 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
Defense Tech: Army reboots G.I.s' tired fatigues
Nature: Dust rocks Martian river theory
Science News: Nanotrees could boost electronics Did the first birds fly on four wings?

May 24, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Snappier Saturn snapshots:
Since February, the folks who run the camera on NASA's Cassini probe have been putting out a picture from Saturn's surroundings every Thursday morning. Now they've upped the ante, updating their photo album even more frequently.

Today's image shows one of Saturn's flock of rings being "shepherded" by the small moons Pandora and Prometheus, with sibling moon Epimetheus standing off to the upper right. The two shepherds keep Saturn's thin F Ring in line by sweeping away stray fragments as they orbit.

Prometheus, the inner moon, is just 63 miles (102 kilometers) across. Pandora, on the F Ring's outer edge, is even smaller, at a width of 52 miles (84 kilometers). Epimetheus is the largest of the three (72 miles, or 116 kilometers).

Image: Ring view
The three tiny moons Prometheus, Pandora and Epimetheus are barely visible in this image from NASA's Cassini probe. Saturn's F Ring is the thin arc betwen two of the moons. Click on the image for larger versions.
For more about the mystery surrounding the ring-herding moons of Saturn, check out this report from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL also has much more information about Cassini and its mission to Saturn.

The pace of the pictures will pick up, of course, as the days tick down to Cassini's orbital insertion on the night of June 30-July 1. The first prime preview will be on June 11, when the spacecraft will snap pictures of the moon Phoebe from a distance of about 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers). But that will be just a foretaste.

During peak operations, the Cassini imaging team will be able to produce an image every three seconds. Over the course of its four-year primary mission, the team expects to deliver 750,000 images.

"This is going to be fun," said Sue LaVoie, manager of JPL's Space Science Data Systems Section.

May 24, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Watch for the youngest planet:
Astronomers will reveal the latest results from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope during a science update that you can watch via Go to MSN Video to watch Live Coverage of the Mars missions at 1 p.m. ET Thursday. The Spitzer team will show imagery of what they believe could be the youngest planet ever found outside our own solar system.

NASA astronomer Anne Kinney will moderate the discussion. Other astronomers on the panel will include the University of Wisconsin's Ed Churchwell, the University of Rochester's Dan Watson, Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Deborah Padgett of the California Institute of Technology.

If you want to do some homework in advance, check out our interactive on the search for other worlds , and our slideshow of Spitzer imagery .

May 24, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Milestones for a space millionaire:
Will millionaire inventor/entrepreneur Greg Olsen fly to the international space station in October or next April? The next few weeks could tell the tale: By the end of June, the space station partners are due to name the short-term passenger for October's Soyuz capsule. That person will sit alongside the professional astronauts of Expedition 10, NASA's Leroy Chiao and Russia's Salizhan Sharipov.

Top prospects for the "third seat" include Olsen, Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori and German astronaut Gerhard Thiele. Thiele trained with Chiao and Sharipov as the backup crew for the current Expedition 9. Normally, that would give Thiele the inside track to go in October, but money might play a role: Last month, the European Space Agency's director of manned spaceflight, Jörg Feustel-Büechl, told Flug Revue that in order for Thiele to fly, "we also need financial support from Germany."

Money should be no problem for Olsen. For now, his training in Russia is covered under the terms of a preliminary contract. In order to continue that training, he'll have to sign the main contract by the end of June, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported last week. That presumably means he'll have to deliver a significant chunk of his multimillion-dollar passenger fare as well.

May 24, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
When politics and science mix on the Web:

The Atlantic: Cheney and the heart of the matter
Washington Post: E-voting prompts Virginia study Kerry gets Google-bombed
The Independent: Green-power guru goes nuclear

The fine print: Looking for older items? Check the Cosmic Log archive. Share your perspective on cosmic subjects with Alan Boyle. If you link to this page, you can use or as the address. MSNBC is not responsible for the content of Internet links.


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