According to various online claims (including the BBC), this Saturday, May 16, 2020, the Moon, and the planets Venus and Jupiter are set to light up offering a striking view of three celestial bodies that will position themselves in the sky as if drawing a happy face, or smiley.
A tweet posted by the BBC explains that “now more than ever, the world needs a good smile”, and even though our planet is currently going through difficult times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the solar system is set to help put a smile on the world.”
A crescent moon and Venus and Jupiter are going to draw a happy face in the night sky. This claim has been published not only by the BBC but by various other websites including an astrophotography website.
The smiley face story appeared to have originated from a Philippines news outlet and makes reference to a very common occurrence of a recent Moon passing Venus. However, this isn’t true, and as it turns out the Moon, Venus and Jupiter won’t align as suggested by the BBC and will be in entirely different parts of the sky on May 16, 2020.
The news has science been picked up by many other websites who have given in to a very literal display of Fake News, as explained by Forbes.
Although it would’ve certainly been an entirely awesome cosmic display, that would have certainly put a smiley on the faces of many people on Earth, the event is not going to happen, and we can see that by checking astronomy pass and websites such as In-The-Sky planetarium.
As revealed by Forbes, a sky chart showing celestial bodies just after sunset on May 16 shows a bright Venus sitting tight next to its neighboring planet Mercury. The moon isn’t above the horizon. Another chart for jus before sunset on the next day May 17, 2020, shows a waning gibbous Moon just risen and close to Mars. Jupiter and Saturn are located much further to the southeast.
As You can see, the sky charts prove that a cosmic smiley won’t occur with the moon and Venus, and Jupiter and this story is, like many others today, no more than false claims.
But even though we may not witness such an incredible cosmic alignment, there are plenty of reasons to smiley and look up to the sky.
For one, Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) has increased greatly in brightness from a magnitude 8 to magnitude 5.2 which means it’s bright enough to see it with the need (unaided) eye under clear dark skies. Some skywatchers have already had the opportunity to see the comet through binoculars, and professional observatories have taken striking images of the comet currently making its way towards the sun.
As revealed by Starwalk (a pretty cool astronomy app I own that helps me pinpoint objects in the sky), astronomers believe that Comet SWAN will get brighter in the nearest future if it doesn’t disintegrate as Comet ATLAS did.
“Comet SWAN promises to grace the sky in the middle and the end of May. On May 12-13, 2020, it will make the closest approach to Earth at a distance of 52 million miles (84 million km). It is predicted to reach a peak magnitude of approximately 2.5 – 3 on May 27, 2020, at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun). It will be 40 million miles (64.4 million km) away,” Starwalk’s website explains.
In addition to Comet SWAN, we’ll have an opportunity to see Mercury and Venus in conjunction on May 22, 2020.