Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sounds of the Seasons! Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" - the second official song of Halloween!

Happy birthday, astronaut Michael Collins!

Astronaut Michael Collins, born October 31, 1930, piloted the Apollo 11 Command Module, orbiting the moon while Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked its surface. He is the first person to perform two EVA's.

I remember watching the moon landing and wanting to be an astronaut when I grew up.  Oh, well.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sounds of the Season! "Haunted House" by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Cassini dives into Enceladus' plume

Two days ago, the Cassini spacecraft completed its deepest dive ever toward Saturn's moon, Enceladus.  The probe passed over the south polar region at a distance of only 30 miles.  During the flyby it took samples of the plumes which have been observed on Enceladus for years.  It'll take several weeks to complete the analyses but it should give researchers some clues to the composition of the global ocean beneath the surface. 

On its next and final flyby in December, Cassini will measure the amount of heat coming from the moon's interior.  Enceladus could be a future target for exploration in search of habitable environments beyond Earth.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sounds of the Season! "This Is Halloween" from "The Nightmare Before Christmas"

The opening number from the movie sung by the citizens of Halloweentown.

Happy birthday, Andrew Lee Potts!

I've had a crush on gorgeous Andrew Lee Potts ever since I saw him in "Primeval" as the adorkable Connor Temple, genius scientist but a little scatter-brained.  It made him all the more lovable.  Which he needed to get audiences to forget his part in "Nature Unleashed: Avalanche".  He turns 36 today!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sounds of the Season! Ray Parker Jr. - "Ghostbusters"

The phrase of the 80's:  Who ya gonna call?

Happy birthday, Mrs. Frankenstein!

Elsa Lanchester, born October 28, 1902, was best known for her portrayal of the bride of Frankenstein.  She went on to star in "Mary Poppins", one of the most beloved movies of all time and got a Supporting Actress Golden Globe award for "Witness for the Prosecution", based on the work by Agatha Christie.  Ironically, she spoofed Christie's sleuth Jane Marple in "Murder by Death" with her role as Jessica Marbles.  This talented and versatile actress died in December 1986.

ZZ Top releases "Afterburner" in 1985

ZZ Top released their ninth studio album "Afterburner" October 28, 1985.  It was certified Platinum in 1990.  "Sleeping Bag" was the biggest hit from the album, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Top 100. 

ZZ Top: Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons

My favorite is "Velcro Fly", strange video but great beat!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sounds of the Season! "The Monster Mash" by Mannheim Steamroller

It's official! Comets contain booze and sugar!

Comet Lovejoy

Researchers at the Paris Observatory, using a 30-meter radio telescope in Sierra Nevada, Spain took measurements of Comet C/2014 Q2 (aka Comet Lovejoy) in January 2015 when it was at its brightest.  Among the 21 compounds the scientists found were ethanol and glycolaldehyde, simple sugar.  Researchers studying data from the Rosetta mission claim they have found the same molecules on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (aka Comet 67P).

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The Parisian scientist also detected ethylene glycol, formic acid and acetaldehyde, which have been discovered on Hale-Bopp and other comets.  The Philae lander has detected methyl isocyanate, acetone and acetamide which have not been reported in other comets.  Philae found more organic molecules, some containing nitrogen.

Since comets contain some of the oldest material in the solar system, they might explain how the substances for life were brought to Earth.  In 2009, the Stardust mission, which flew by Comet Wild 2 in 2004 and returned to earth, brought back samples which contained glycine, a simple amino acid.  It is still unknown how it got onto the comet but more complex molecules could be formed when an amino acid-carrying comet made impact with the Earth's surface.

Comet Wild 2

Comets might also demonstrate how planes were formed during the sun's youth.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sounds of the Season! The Raven by The Alan Parsons Project

A little music for the Halloween holiday!

The second track from their debut album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination in 1976, the song is based on Edgar Allan Poe's poem of the same name.

This video used the remixed version from 1987.

Book Review - The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Before Winnie-the-Pooh and Hundred Acre Wood, before Agatha Christie published The Mysterious Affair at Styles, A. A. Milne wrote The Red House Mystery.  This is the only mystery Milne wrote, apparently since he found much success with his Winnie-the-Pooh series.

His ability to spin a twisted tale of murder and intrigue is worthy of Christie but he seems to have drawn inspiration from Sir Ian Fleming.  His two main characters, who act as sleuths, refer to each other as Holmes and Watson.

Milne’s mystery is a stylish early twentieth century British story, with a body, a missing man, eavesdropping maids, secret passages and a mysterious visitor.  His writing style is replete with head hops and changes in point of view, so it is difficult to keep track of who is speaking and whose thoughts we’re reading.  He also peppers the dialogue with all the British cliché phrases like: “I say, old man.”; “Dash it all.”; “I daresay”. 

One of the most interesting aspects is the interaction between the two main characters Antony Gillingham and Bill Beverley.  Although Milne does not expand on their sexual orientation, one could take some things said in their conversations as innuendoes:
“…offered to beat Antony at billiards, to play him at piquet, to show him the garden by moonlight…”

Later in the book:

“Then where do I sleep tonight?”
“Officially, I suppose, in Felham Palace.  Unofficially, I suspect, in my bed, unless they’ve got another spare room…”

It sounds like both men are keen on each other.  Of course, in the context of the story, these comments are not sexual in nature since, considering the time and place the novel is set, but it is interesting to hear this sort of exchange between two supposedly straight men.

Despite the challenges of Milne’s writing, The Red House Mystery is an engaging and satisfying read.  Not much action at all, and it is slow to build but it does become exciting as Gillingham and Beverley close in on the final solution.

The biggest drawback is the ending.  Although Milne wraps up the mystery, nice and neat, he leaves one big, open thread, unforgiveable unless he plans a follow-up.

Which he didn’t.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Kerberos, last of Pluto's moons

Data downloaded from New Horizons earlier this week shows a fuzzy image  of Pluto's moon, Kerberos.  It shows the moon is double-lobed shape, with the larger lobe approximately 5 miles (8 kilometers) across and the smaller lobe approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers) across.  This makes it the second smallest moon, after Styx.

Scientists previously thought Kerberos was much larger and its surface darker when it was discovered back in 2011.  Its surface is highly reflective, like Pluto's, which could mean it is covered with a layer of water ice.

A  family portrait of Pluto's moons:  Charon is by far the largest of the five.

Michael Crichton born in 1942

Prolific author Michael Crichton, who wrote some of the biggest blockbusters of all times - Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain - was born this day in 1942.  The first book I read was The Andromeda Strain and enjoyed it even though the ending was a bit anti-climatic.  I liked Jurassic Park just as well  but Spielberg changed it up a bit.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Luna 12 launched in 1966, Apollo 7 splashes down in 1968, Venera 9 lands on Venus 1975

Venera 9, launched June 8, 1975, touched down on Venus October 22, 1968 transmitted the first images ever sent from the surface of another planet.  Two days prior, the descent craft separated from the orbited and made a soft landing.  It transmitted for 53 minutes before falling silent.  Venera 9 measured a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth and a brisk atmosphere of 485° C.

Venera 9

Apollo 7 Crew: Major Don Eisele, Capt. Schirra, Walt Cunningham

Apollo 7 returned to Earth in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda on October 22, 1968.  Crew members Capt. Walter (Wally) Schirra, Major Don Eisele and Walt Cunningham spent eleven days in orbit.  They inadvertently conducted an unscheduled biological experiment of seeing how a head cold manifests itself in zero-g.  Without the pull of gravity, the crew found it difficult to clear the nose, ears and sinuses.  The cold persisted throughout the mission despite medication.  When they returned to Earth, they did not wear gloves or helmets because then it would have been impossible to clear the throat and ears when gravity would start pulling mucous from the head area.

Apollo 7 splashdown

Luna 12

In the ever-escalating Space Race during the Cold War, the USSR launched Luna 12 October 22, 1966.  It reached the moon in 3 days and took high-resolution images of the surface, a task Luna 11 failed to do.  The USSR released photos of the Sea of Rains and the Aristarchus crater but no further images were ever released.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dr. Ronald McNair born in 1950

Dr. Ronald McNair, born this day in 1950, was in elementary school when Sputnik was launched, sparking his interest in space.  He earned a PhD in physics from MIT in 1976 and 2 years later was selected as one of 35 applicants from 10,000 for the NASA program.  He flew on the Challenger February 3-11, 1984, but was killed when the Challenger blew up 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

Scientists testing 'designer anti-bodies' to rid body of AIDS virus

One reason HIV has never been eliminated from anyone despite the number of anti-HIV drugs extending the lives of millions is that the virus can integrate its DNA into the chromosomes of white blood cells.  This helps it escape the notice of the body's immune system.

Two separate research groups have designed artificial versions of anti-bodies, molecules produced by the immune system to target pathogens.  With natural anti-bodies in 'Y' shapes, both arms of the 'Y' grab onto the same target, but the arms of the designer version clasp onto unique proteins.  One grabs onto an HIV protein and the other onto a CD3, a receptor on the white blood cell surface.

HIV hides its DNA inside white blood cells that have CD3 receptors.  A killer T cell, which destroys HIV-infected cells, is a second type of "CD3-studded lymphocyte".

The first bispecific antibody, bound to a cell harboring latent HIV, prompts the cell to divide.  This process brings new HIV proteins to the surface.  Then the second bispecific antibody clasps a killer T cell and brings it near the cell with HIV proteins on the surface.

"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly.

Tests are still in the laboratory phase but researchers hope to start tests on HIV-infected people in a year or so.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bela Lugosi born in 1882

It almost seems appropo that less than two weeks from Halloween, Bela Lugosi, who played one of the most fearsome monsters to ever appear on screen, was born this day back in 1882.

His movie, "Night Monster", was released on his birthday in 1942.  Did they throw him a party?

Despite the huge body of work he accomplished, he died penniless due mainly to his drug addiction.  He was awarded his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, almost 4 years after his death.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Researchers claim they can predict male sexual orientation

In a report presented to the American Society of Human Genetics' annual meeting in Baltimore earlier this month, researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have developed a "predictive model for sexual orientation based on molecular markers."

By studying genetic information in the DNA of 37 pairs of twins (one of which was gay and the other straight) and 10 pairs of twins who were both gay, the researchers devised a machine learning algorithm that found that DNA methylation, which affects when and how strongly a gene will be expressed, can be used to predict sexual orientation with 70 percent accuracy. 

The headline of the paper says the epigenetic algorithm accurately predicts male sexual orientation, but 70% doesn't sound accurate.  Yes, it is better than fifty-fifty but not near 100%.  The researchers admit they don't know how the methylation patterns are related to sexual orientation and the article posted doesn't state whether this method can be employed in utero, which is a scary thought. 

I have a friend who's mother told him if she knew he was going to be gay when she was pregnant with him, she would have aborted him. 

Thanks for the unconditional love, mom. 

It's my fear this will be used to predict the sexual orientation of fetuses and an unlucky 30% (minimum) will be aborted based on an algorithm.  Why else would researchers want to know who is gay or not?  First of all, it's none of their business.  Second, they can just ask and hope for a response.  So why come up with an algorithm?  Pure science?  Or a weapon for fundamentalists?

Epigenetic algorithm accurately predicts male sexual orientation -- ScienceDaily

Friday, October 16, 2015

Happy birthday, Angela Lansbury!

Angela Lansbury, one of my favorite actresses, turns 90 today!  She came to the United States in 1940 and began studying acting.  She moved to LA and got roles in "Gaslight" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray" based on the novel by Oscar Wilde, who was also born on this day in 1845.

Dame Angela has won five Tony awards and six Golden Globes.  She's been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar three times. 

Although I loved her in "Murder, She Wrote", her performance in "The Manchurian Candidate" is one of the best in all filmdom.

Couple divorces to become a threesome - WTF?

So Canadian couple Adam Grant and Shayne Curran were happily married when they met Sebastian Tran while looking for a three-way in Nova Scotia.  Now one year after Adam and Shayne tied the knot, they are divorcing so Sebastian can join them as a threesome and won't feel left out.

The question has been raised about how this will affect marriage equality for gays.  It certainly isn't going to help its cause but certainly not counter-productive. 

My question is: why is this news?

Polygamy isn't a new concept.  Heterosexuals have been doing that for centuries!  But now that a gay couple has decided to become a threesome, it's all over the Internet.   Is it because all three twinks involved are cute?  Would an older couple like my husband and I get the same amount of coverage if we decided to divorce to accept a 50+ year-old bear into our home?

I know a straight threesome and I know a gay foursome.  They're not out there mugging it in front of cameras to get attention.  They're classier than that.

Realm of the Polar Bear coming soon from JMS Books!

My latest short story, Realm of the Polar Bear, will be available this December as part of JMS Books anthology, "Stocking Stuffers". 

Stranded by a blizzard on his way home for Christmas, Jarrod waits for death by freezing in his pickup, until a large, white haired and bearded man steps out of the forest to rescue him.  Jarrod is reluctant to follow the handsome man but decides his chances of survival weren’t good if he stayed in his truck. 

Caleb takes Jarrod to his warm, inviting cabin in the middle of the forest and offers him food and drink to warm him up.  Jarrod’s apprehensions begin to dissipate as his attraction for the mysterious man increases. 

Jarrod begins to wonder what it would be like to live in the wild with the handsome Caleb, but he will find out that the white bear is not what he appears to be.
His beard and mustache dripped with condensation from his breath but the water soon froze forming ice on the blond hair. He curled up on the seat with his head under the steering wheel, praying the end would come swiftly and painlessly.
          A soft knock on the driver’s window shocked him and he yelped in surprise. A small point of light glowed outside. Jarrod’s heart leapt for joy in his chest as he fumbled with the door handle, spilling out of the truck.
          “Hello! I’m so glad you found –” The words caught in his throat as he saw his visitor through the blowing snow. A large man with full white beard and mustache stood bundled up against the cold holding a kerosene lantern in one hand and an axe in the other. Jarrod recoiled in horror.
          “Aw, damn,” the man said, turning to toss the axe on a sled full of chopped wood he had been pulling with the same hand as the axe. “Sorry ‘bout that, son. Didn’t mean to scare you. Thought you might be needin’ some help.”
          “Uh…yeah,” Jarrod managed to utter, relieved the axe wasn’t so handy now. “I ran off the road a while back. Can you help me dig my truck out?”
          The white-haired man stepped toward the rear of Jarrod’s truck, holding the lantern close to the tires.  He walked around the truck and examined the snowdrift which buried most of the vehicle. 
          “That dog won’t hunt!  I don’t think you’re going anywhere for a while.”         
The man pulled his right glove off with his teeth and extended his hand. “I’m Caleb. I live not far from here.”
          “I’m Jarrod. I’m on my way home from Christmas.”
          “Damn, son!” Caleb kept his warm hand clasped over Jarrod’s. “Feels like you’re frozen solid already. Come on up to the house and thaw out a bit. The way the snow’s coming down right now, we’d just be pissing in the wind if we tried to dig you out.” He placed the lantern on the ground and, removing the other glove, held the pair out for him.
          Jarrod cast a doubtful glance toward the sled with the chopped wood and axe. “Maybe I should stay with my truck. Perhaps you could send someone?”
          Caleb gave him a placating smile. “Son, no one’s going to be coming around tonight in this. And if you stay here, you’ll freeze to death and I can’t let that be on my conscience. If it’ll make you feel better, you can carry the axe.” He chuckled as he stepped to the sled, picked up the axe and handed it to Jarrod.
          Still unsure but willing to risk anything to get warm, Jarrod pulled on the gloves and grabbed the axe. Caleb seemed to wield it without much effort. He had not expected it to be so heavy and on his first attempt, he dropped the axe into the snow, nearly pulling his arm off.  Worried that he looked wimpy, Jarrod reached down and clutched the handle with both hands.  With a tremendous heave, he hoisted it to his shoulder and signaled for Caleb to lead the way.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cassini-Hugyens spacecraft launched in 1997

The Cassini-Huygens space probe, now circling Saturn and her moons and sending back tons of data, started its seven year trek on October 15, 1997.  It arrived at the planet in June 2004 for a four year mission, which it completed in 2008 however it is still going strong.  It has sent back hundreds of gigabytes of data on Saturn, Titan, Enceladus, Iapetus, Dione, Hyperion, Tethys and other moons.

Starting this week, Cassini will make three close encounters with Enceladus.  She will fly through the icy material continually erupting from the moon's surface.  A tricky maneuver, given the speed of the probe and what damage even a small particle can do.

Part of the mission was to deploy the Huygens lander on the surface of Titan.  It landed with little difficulty and transmitted about 90 minutes after touchdown.  Images show an orange surface covered with hydrocarbon-coated water ice pebbles.  The temperature was a balmy -179.35 °C!  It's the farthest surface landing from Earth.

The Hunger by Nomar Knight (Knight Chills blog)

For your horror reading pleasure:

Happy birthday, Sarek!

Mark Lenard who played Sarek on Star Trek would be 91 today.  Although he had a long and varied career, he will probably be best remembered as playing Spock's father in Star Trek, the television series, the animated series and movies.  His debut in the original series was as the Romulan Commander in Balance of Terror.  He was one of the few actors to play a Romulan, a Klingon, and a Vulcan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 1979

The first political rally for the gay community was the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 14, 1979.  Over 100,000 people, gay, straight, bi and transgendered came together to urge the passage of protective civil rights:

Five demands were presented:
1. The passage of a comprehensive gay/lesbian rights bill in Congress;
2. Issue a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government, military and federally contracted private employment
3. The repeal of all anti-lesbian/gay laws;
4. End discrimination in custody cases with gay or lesbian parents; and
5. The protection of gay and lesbian youth from any laws which are used to discriminate, oppress and/or harass them in their homes, schools, jobs and social environments.

The march came at a time after Harvey Milk had been assassinated and Anita Bryant was on her crusade against gays.  According to the Tuscon LGBTQ Museum's website, participants met successfully with 50 senators and 150 house representatives.

Marches followed in 1987 and 1993 but the first one nationalized the gay rights movement from fragmented efforts focused on problems in individual communities.

Winnie-the-Pooh published in 1926

Alan Alexander Milne published one of the most beloved children's books, Winnie-the-Pooh on October 14, 1926.  Milne graduated with a college degree in mathematics in 1903 but became an assistant editor for Punch, a humorous magazine in 1903.

After his discharge from the army in February 1919, Milne left Punch and focused on writing plays. In 1924, Milne published When We Were Very Young a book of children's poems, including one about a teddy bear who "however he tries grows tubby without experience", Pooh's first unofficial appearance.

In 1925, Milne published a bedtime story in the Christmas Eve issue of the Evening News about his son, Christopher Robin, who has adventures with his teddy bear The story became the first chapter in his book Winnie-the-Pooh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Picking up Styx

Last week, NASA released pictures of Styx, the smallest and faintest of Pluto's five moons.  The moon is only about 4.5 miles long and 3 miles across.  Its brightness suggests a highly reflective, icy surface similar to ones found on Nix and Hydra, two other moons.  The powerful Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera was 391,000 miles away when it took photos but at that distance, it was difficult to detect details on Styx's surface. 

Sting released ...Nothing Like the Sun in 1987

Sting released his second solo album, ...Nothing Like the Sun, on October 13, 1987 to rave critical reviews. Rolling Stone ranked it #90 on the best100 albums from the 1980's.  It peaked at #9 on the Billboard's 200 but reached #1 in three other countries.  It was nominated for three Grammys in 1989 including Album of the Year.

The first single to be released We'll be Together Tonight made it to #7 on Billboard's Hot 100 charts.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy birthday, Wolverine!

Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in the X-Men movies) celebrates his 47th birthday today!  Born October 12, 1968 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, he's still one of the sexiest men alive. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

X-Files controversial episode "Home"

When "Home" aired on October 11, 1996, it was the only X-Files episode at that time to receive a TV-MA rating, because of its controversial nature.  Mulder and Scully investigate the case of a severely deformed infant who was buried alive in a picturesque, small-town America place, Home, Pennsylvania.  The leads take them to a household where the deformed, monster-like Peacock brothers live.

Although the Fox network banned the episode after it aired, it has been one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the series.  During a particularly gruesome scene, "Wonderful, Wonderful" a song by Johnny Mathis is playing in the background.  Mathis refused to allow his version of the song be used so a sound-alike was used instead.  I won't be able to listen to the song anymore, no matter who is singing it, without remembering this episode.

Nighmare at 20,000 Feet aired October 1963

One of William Shatner's most iconic (at least, pre-Star Trek) performances was his appearance in "The Twilight Zone" In the episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" which aired October 11, 1963, he plays a man losing his grip on reality.  His character insists a creature is on the wing of his aircraft, tearing it apart.  Of course, every time he manages to get someone's attention, the creature disappears.  Was it just his imagination or is it real?

Twenty years later, Steven Spielberg recreated this episode in the movie version of the television show, starring John Lithgow in Shatner's role.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Triton discovered by William Lassell in 1846

The largest Neptunian moon Triton was discovered by William Lassell on October 10, 1846.  He had been studying Neptune which had been discovered the month before.  Lassell was trying to confirm Neptune had rings like Saturn but instead discovered the first of 13 moons.

In 1989, Voyager 2 passed by Triton and gave us the first glimpse of the strange new world.

Triton was the last solid object visited by the Voyager 2 spacecraft on its epic 10-year tour of the outer solar system. Voyager mapped only the hemisphere that faces Neptune, but revealed a very young surface scarred by rising blobs of ice (diapirs), faults, and volcanic pits and lava flows composed of water and other ices.

Friday, October 9, 2015

And This Year's Nobel Prize for Literature goes to...

Svetlana Alexievich, a non-fiction writer from Belarus, has won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, only the 14th woman to do so.  Ms. Alexievich draws her works from historical facts and interviews from major events such as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.  Her most noted work, "War's Unwomanly Face", was based on interviews with hundreds of women who lived through World War II.

Janet Jackson and The Cars nominated for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2016

Janet Jackson, The Cars, Chicago and The Steve Miller Band have been nominated for induction into next year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Of the fifteen nominees, eight are on the list for the first time.  Chaka Khan and Cheap Trick are also first-timers.

The remaining seven have been here before, including Chic, who are up for the tenth time.  No other artists have been nominated this many times without being inducted.

I like Chic, but they didn't have many hits other than "Le Freak".  Janet should be a shoo-in with her work but I think The Cars, Chicago and The Steve Miller Band will be the ones inducted.  Still, I wish all the artists good luck this year.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blue skies and ice on Pluto

This dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system keeps offering surprises almost on a daily basis.  NASA reported today that the New Horizons spacecraft has found numerous, small exposed regions of water ice on the surface of Pluto.  Data collected from the Ralph spectral composition mapper, an imager to map surface compositions and temperatures, made the discovery, but only in certain areas.  Exposed ice does not appear in larger expanses, which could mean it is covered or masked by more volatile ices.

Other images sent from New Horizons show blue atmospheric hazes.  Although the particles causing the hazes are probably gray or red, they scatter blue light that indicates the size and composition of the particles.  Scientists theorize tholins in the atmosphere are the cause.

The term ‘tholin’ was coined by Carl Sagan and Bishun Khare in 1979.  In their laboratory, they produced complex organic solids from “cosmically abundant” gases, such as methane, ethane, ammonia and water.  Sagan and Khare say these particles are relevant to the origin of life.

This process was observed in the upper atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s moon, where UV light ionizes nitrogen and methane molecules.  They react with each other to form more and more complex ions.  This ionizing and recombining results in large molecules that become small particles.  Volatile gases condense on their surfaces and coat them with ice frost before they fall to the planet’s surface, giving Pluto a red color.

Happy birthday, Sigourney Weaver!

Sigourney Weaver, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses ever, celebrates her birthday today, October 8.  She is one of the few actresses to receive an Oscar nomination for her performance in a horror movie (Aliens, 1986), one of my favorites of all time.

My other favorites: Alien, Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, Wall-E, Dave, Heartbreakers and Snow White: A Tale of Terror.

Frank Herbert, author of "Dune", born in 1920

Frank Herbert, born on October 8, 1920, authored Dune, the top-selling science-fiction novel of all time.  He worked as a journalist for much of his earlier life and selling pulp adventure stories to magazines such as Esquire in 1945.  He took six years to research and write Dune, which was published by Sterling E. Lanier, an editor of Chilton Book Company, best known for its auto-repair manuals. 

Dune was not an immediate best seller but it was a critical success, winning the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965, and shared the Hugo Award with Roger Zelazny's ...And Call Me Conrad in 1966.  Herbert followed his novel with 5 sequels: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune.  None of them ever achieved the same critical acclaim he received for Dune and although almost all of them appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list, none of them won any Hugo or Nebula awards.  I personally think God Emperor of Dune was one of the worst books I've read.  The last two novels in the series come the closest to reaching the same level as Dune. 

The 1984 movie version by David Lynch turned out to be a bomb, but the Sci Fi Channel produced it as a mini-series in 2000, following it with Children of Dune (the first part of which was actually from Dune Messiah) garnered its highest rating production at that time.

After Herbert's death in 1986, his son Brian and author Kevin J. Anderson have continued the Dune saga with notes discovered a decade later.