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Thursday, 4th December 2008

Heavenly smile

An interesting astronomical phenomenon took place on 1 December. Looking towards the south-west at sunset time, one could see a smiling face in the sky. Venus and Jupiter got rather close to each other and the crescent moon happened to be located underneath them. Together they formed a smiling face like smile, as if someone was sending us a message to boost our morale, reminding us that we should avoid being unduly pessimistic and should remember that the world is full of happy happenings.

My colleagues at the Observatory headquarters took many photographs and I show one below. In terms of star-gazing, the surrounding landscape at the Observatory has changed dramatically. The Observatory was originally built on top of a knoll in Tsimshatsui with a good panoramic view of the Victoria Harbour. But in the past few decades, tall buildings have surrounded the site. They blocked the view of the "smiling face" well before it reached the horizon. Furthermore, the bright lights of the urban areas were a nuisance to star photography. Stray light from neon advertisement signs overwhelmed the light of stars, so that the "smiling face" lost its visual impact shortly after it appeared in dim light. This is what astronomers refer to as "light pollution".

Every coin has two sides. In the really dark sky, there are so many stars that beginner star-gazers would be confused and become completely disoriented. On the other hand, in cities where the not so bright stars are drowned by light pollution, only the brightest stars and planets (such as Venus and Jupiter in the present case) would remain. In a counter-intuitive way, it would actually make the identification of star constellations much easier for beginner star-gazers.

We could choose to look at the world through the glass of optimism. Then we would notice that poor visibility makes us focus firmly on the direction of our movement. Adversity would give us the opportunity to deliver our best. We could even see a heavenly smile in the sky despite the planets and the moon being inanimate objects. I sincerely encourage everybody to see the positive side of things, so as to let joy become part of our everyday life.

C.Y. Lam

Photograph taken on the rooftop of the Centenary Building of the Hong Kong Observatory
Photograph taken on the rooftop of the Centenary Building of the Hong Kong Observatory.
Venus is on the left-hand side and Jupiter on the right-hand side. The moon is situated at the bottom.
(Taken by Observatory colleague Mr. Lam Kin Yui )

Last revision date: <17 Jan 2013>