This phenomenon is called conjunction and it last occured in 2008.
To give us a much-needed respite during these difficult times the cosmos is smiling down on us, literally. In a rare occurrence, Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon will align in such a way that they will appear to form a giant smiley face in the sky. This unusual phenomenon occurred last in December 2008, gracing the sky late in the evening then. Now, almost 12 years later, it will be happening again in the month of May.
#HeadlineChallenge: The world needs reasons to smile - and the solar system is about to give us a helping hand. On May 16, a crescent moon, beneath Venus & Jupiter, will form a smiley face in the sky...@PeteBarronMedia goes with PUT ON A HAPPY SPACE. pic.twitter.com/G6Tmz0Lx34— BBC Radio Tees (@BBCTees) March 30, 2020
Although this occurrence is rare, it has happened a number of times in the past. In 2007, people of the Philipines were also treated to the rare celestial show. This alignment is referred to as an occultation and according to Space.com, "An occultation happens when one object passes in front of another from an observer's perspective. A simple example is a solar eclipse. From a certain area on Earth, the Moon passes in front of the sun and either partially or totally blocks the light. So we can say that the sun is eclipsed or occulted." There can even be planetary occultations where planets can pass in front of other planets. Venus transited Jupiter in 1818; the same occultation will happen again in 2065.
But the smiley face is not a planetary occultation, it is called a conjunction. According to RMG, "In astronomy, a conjunction occurs when any two astronomical objects (such as asteroids, Moons, planets, and stars) appear to be close together in the sky, as observed from Earth." The conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Venus with respect to the Moon is what we will be witnessing. The event is notable not because of the planetary alignment per se but because of how it is aligned but most importantly because of how the human brain perceives it. That is, seeing the conjunction of three celestial bodies in the sky and deriving meaning from it has an explanation as well.
The Moon, Venus And Jupiter Will Align to Form a Smiley Face This May https://t.co/VDqPuX78Hq— Cities 97.1 (@cities97radio) March 23, 2020
Pareidolia is said to be the process by which the human brain is able to see meaning in random data, according to Futurism. The word pareidolia is derived from the Greek word "para" which means something faulty and "eidōlon" which means image, form, or shape. This plays a major role in this event when we see a smiley face in the sky because that is how our brain interprets it. This also explains why we see a man's face on the Moon and Mars. According to Carl Sagan, this interpretation has been engrained in humans at birth through millions of years of evolution. The need arose for the early man when he had to distinguish someone as a friend or foe in order to survive. This was when he started using contextual clues and put them together to form human faces from a distance and in poor visibility. Sagan called it an evolutionary advantage for humans.
Larry Sessions of EarthSky.org, a forum and blogging community for scientists and science enthusiasts, told ABS-CBN, that this phenomenon "not unusual for the moon to appear to pass close to Venus" since this happens about once a month." The apparent closeness varies from month to month as well," Sessions stated. Australia witnessed the conjunction in 2008 where Venus was the left eye and Jupiter the right, and the crescent moon was the smile. It took place between 8 pm and 11 pm Western Australia Time. According to Daily Mail, it was visible to the naked eye, even in built-up areas, with the moon just 252,000 miles away. It was sadly not visible to the US or European countries. The phenomenon will only reappear in Australia skies in 2036 next. Something similar is set to occur again on May 16 this year.