Thursday, April 30, 2020

Day 3780

I've been interested in astronomy for a long time. I'm certainly no expert, but I do know the basics. That's why I've been completely baffled to keep seeing articles on the Internet saying that the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus will form a smiley face in the sky on May 16th. If you Google this event you will literally find dozens of articles, some from seemingly reputable sources, telling you how and when to view this rare celestial show. I've even started seeing Facebook friends telling each other to mark their calendars.

Have any of these people actually gone outside and looked at the sky? Jeez. There isn't going to be a smiley face in the sky. It's not going to happen. On May 16th, Venus shines brightly in the evening sky after sunset, but you won't see Jupiter unless you get up early the next morning and look toward the East a little before sunrise. These two planets are on the opposite sides of the sky. The Moon is a waning crescent at this time, but it isn't even thin enough to look like a smile. The only planet anywhere close to it is Mars.

So how could so many people be completely wrong? Do people actually believe what they see on the Internet more than what they can see with their own eyes? Sadly, the answer is yes. This isn't rocket science, people. Just go outside and look at the sky. I'm kind of amazed that none of the many "fact checker" websites have called out the "smiley face" story as a hoax. They probably believe the story too.

I think the reason this obviously false story persists is that people like a smiley face. A smiley face makes them feel good. They want to believe the story. A smiley face in the sky is an innocent little story but it illustrates perfectly why fake news is so prevalent today. People believe what they want to believe. Nobody questions anything in a clear, dispassionate way anymore. You find something that supports your preconceived opinion and then you tell your friends about it. If enough people agree with you, your opinion goes viral. I doubt that the bogus smiley face story is any sort of conspiracy. It's just laziness. There actually have been conjunctions of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus in the past. I think the last time this happened was in 2008. You can see almost anything in the sky if you wait long enough.

I don't know why the smiley face story bothers me so much. Perhaps it is because it illustrates human nature so well. If you can easily convince people to ignore the laws of physics, you can convince them of anything. Almost everything we see and hear in the media has been designed to influence you in one way or another. Ads try to influence you to buy something you may or may not need. It's pretty easy to do this because people are gullible and they have emotions. I spent my entire career trying to influence you and got pretty good at it. Today, what used to be called "hard news" has just become another form of advertising. These news sources feed you a steady diet of what you already believe so you will continue watching. Pick your poison. It's not that hard to to find something that appeals to you these days. Maybe you like OAN and Fox. Maybe you like CNN and MSNBC. Don't expect that what you are hearing is true however. You are being manipulated.

If you have your heart set on seeing something cool in the sky on May 16, just wait until the next morning. If you get up around 5 AM on May 17 you can see Jupiter and Saturn extremely close together in the Eastern sky. The two planets will only be a few degrees apart. No smiley face though. I have no idea when that will happen again.

Bea is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day