Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yeccccchhhh...A Smiling Face in the Sky

Last night, my good friend Kan called, said "look at the moon", and hung up. With the greatest of compassion, she didn't inform me that I was supposed to see a smiley face.

Tonight, the moon has risen another 12 or so degrees higher, placing that smile above the two eyes (Venus and Jupiter). Rotating your head, or your photo, by 180 degrees gives you a frowning face. Hooray!

This astronomical episode sets the geek in me a-spinning. They say that you won't see another smiley-phenomenon like this for another 44 years or so. So how often is it possible to see a be-nosed smiley with a third planet, Mars or Saturn? Well, if you take 50 years as a rough average for the frequency of last night's performance, and you figure that nose only has a couple of degrees leeway between the eyes and the smile, you can multiply those 50 years by 180 (360/2) and get 9,000 years. That's awfully rough, and the frequency is probably even lower if you restrict the nose to a narrow left/right region across the face.

My inner geek also got to wondering about the logistics of seeing a frowning face without rotating head or photograph. I don't think it's possible! To see a "real" frown, the sun couldn't be far off the earth-moon line (otherwise, the moon would be closer to being full, and the smile would be replaced by a gape). The sun would also have to be above the moon from an earthbound perspective. That's necessary to get a frown. But if the sun is slightly above the moon, it'll wash out the planets! It doesn't matter if you're looking at the pre-dawn or post-dusk sky.

It's possible to imagine another solar system with planets that are visible in the daytime. Then you might see a frowning formation. Or, to get really sci-fi, you can imagine a universe with suns that spew rays of blackness into the otherwise ever-brilliant heavens. That would work. Hmmmmm.

I'm in a good mood now, and hereby donate this observation to the "intelligent design" crowd as evidence for a loving creator. Take it before I rescind the offer.

To be clear, the geek only emerged after a good solid gawk. Not once did a smiling face impinge on my consciousness. In "A Beautiful Mind", mathematician John Nash displays his talent for connecting the dots and inventing new constellations on demand. You can call my story, "An Ugly Mind".

Honestly, what's the point of overlaying an awesome display of the night sky with...something else? Even worse is something as banal as a smiley.

A nice candlelight dinner for two couples back in University comes to mind. The food was great, and the company wonderful. And then there was Rachmaninoff's extraordinary Piano Concerto #3. I recall getting horribly tweaked when my company felt compelled to verbalize and reify the imagery that the music stirred in their brains. Noooooo!

Embellishing the already-astounding, be it music, sex, or a celestial display. Just a longstanding pet peeve of mine.

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