BAN #281: Jupiter and Saturn, Writing advice, Colossal movie

21 December 2020   Issue #281

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

Subscribers are colossal.

Astro Tidbit

A brief synopsis of some interesting astronomy/science news

Today is the December solstice! That means the longest night in the northern hemisphere and the longest amount of daylight in the southern. It also means Earth’s north pole is tipped maximally away from the Sun today in its orbit. After today, the length of daylight in the northern hemisphere gets longer, so if you don’t like long nights, today should be your favorite day. It gets better from here.

It’s also the day that Jupiter and Saturn are in conjunction, seemingly as close together in the sky as they’ll get for a few centuries. I have info on that on the blog. You don’t have to look at them today; over the next two or three days they’ll still be amazingly close.

Here’s a photo I took Friday night using my phone attached to my Celestron Regal M2 80ED spotting ‘scope:

They were still 14 arcminutes apart at the time, but at closest approach they’ll be only 6 arcminutes apart! So try to look as soon as you can.

And don’t worry about them causing doomsday! That’s just nonsense.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Did astronoemrs receive an intelligent signal from Proxima Centauri? Probably not. But something’s weird here. From Saturday’s article. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser]

Monday 14 December, 2020: The sky on fire: The cold flames of the Perseus Molecular Cloud

Tuesday 15 December, 2020: No, it's the end of the *year*, not the end of the *world*

Wednesday 16 December, 2020: Black dwarf supernovae: The last explosions in the Universe

Thursday 17 December, 2020: Defying death, a monster storm on Neptune makes a U-turn

Friday 18 December, 2020: The star cluster that wasn't: How did M73 fool generations of astronomers?

Bonus for Saturday, December 19, 2020: A signal from Proxima? Likely Intelligent, unlikely from aliens

Inside a Writer’s Brain

Free advice is worth every penny

I’m not precisely sure how many words I’ve written as a professional writer. Four million is a conservative estimate. That includes thousands of articles, scripts, and three books.

And that doesn’t include tweets!

Despite that, I still get that nervous chill, that frisson of dread, every time I hit “send” on a freelance article to someone for their consideration. Will they like it? Does the theme work? Does it fit their overall desire?

Is it any good?

I just got a note back from a friend... he had asked me to write the foreword to a book he's putting together, and I had sent him a draft the other day. I’d struggled with it more than usual and was uncertain what the reception would be. I saw the subject line come up in my mail, and that ghost hand caressed the back of my neck once again.

I opened the mail with some trepidation... and he liked the foreword. Quite a bit, actually. Relief swept over me, and gratitude. And, I’ll admit, some pride.

I tend not to give advice to writers, because a) free advice is worth exactly every penny you spend on it, and 2) my experience is mine, and not necessarily extrapolatable to anyone else.

Despite that... Writers: Sometimes, maybe often, you’ll get that feeling that you’re not quite good enough. No matter how much you write, no matter how far along in your career, it never goes away. You will never be completely certain with your work. And if you are, it may mean you’re an arrogant jerk, so hold on to that uncertainty with both hands. Keep it close.

Why? Because it means you’re concerned about this thing you’ve created, you’re invested in it, and you want it to be as good as it can be.

That’s a good thing. Cherish it.

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

I love a good monster movie — what the kids these days refer to as kaiju movies, which is fine since giant monsters is a subset of the more general monster genre. I watched them all when I was a kid, and still love them (well, for the most part; one of the latest ones, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters”, well, could’ve been better. A plot someone thought out for more than a minute or two would’ve been nice, even if the special effects were fun).

[Movie poster for “Colossal”. Credit: Voltage Pictures]

One that you may not heard of was “Colossal”, which ran under most folks’ radar when it came out in 2016. It stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis (who are both great in it), and it’s actually very good. It’s a very different movie, certainly, and not just monsters running amok. It’s far more thoughtful than that, subtle in many ways, and actually has allegory and themes. It has a lot to say about toxic relationships, feminism, and personal strength. Those are its basic themes, really.

I won’t spoil any of it because it’s a surprising flick and takes turns you will not expect. If you don’t mind spoilers, Up From the Depths Reviews has a great overview of it.

I’ll also note that the music is great, but that’s because it was composed by my friend Bear McCreary, who consistently creates great stuff. You may have heard of some of the shows and movies for which he wrote the soundtracks, like, oh, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Outlander”, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, and the above-mentioned “Godzilla” (the best part of the movie IMO). Tons more, too (“The Cloverfield Paradox” was a stinking mess of a movie, but the music is really really good). Bear also has a lot of his stuff on his YouTube channel.

“Colossal” is on Amazon video, and I’m sure you can find it elsewhere. Give it a watch!

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!