We’re wired to see faces such as lady in the Moon

Shoreline Beacon - - Opinion -

do not know who it was that first started see­ing a “man in the Moon.” Maybe one of our cave-dwelling an­ces­tors stood on his cave porch look­ing at the ris­ing full Moon and saw a face. It would only be an­other ex­am­ple of the propen­sity of hu­mans to see faces in many things with just a faint re­sem­blance to two eyes and a mouth.

All hu­mans are prone to see­ing faces and other fa­mil­iar shapes in inan­i­mate ob­jects and we even have a name for it — “parei­do­lia.”

Ap­par­ently there is some evo­lu­tion­ary ben­e­fit in be­ing able to rec­og­nize a friend or foe from the ex­pres­sion on their faces, so our brain de­vel­oped the ca­pac­ity to sub­con­sciously check the faces of hu­mans or an­i­mals and quickly de­ter­mine if they are a threat. It is a sur­vival ad­van­tage. The car­ry­over of that tal­ent is that we see faces in sim­ple pat­terns or in di­verse shapes like clouds, rock cliffs (Lion’s Head, for ex­am­ple) and even craters on Mars (Galle Crater, also known as the “Happy Face Crater”).

Even in the far reaches of our galaxy, there are neb­u­lous patches that evoke faces when we look at the images. The ev­i­dence is in of­fi­cially rec­og­nized names: the Clown Face or Eskimo Ne­bula (NGC 2392 in Gemini), the Owl Ne­bula in Ursa Ma­jor (also known as M97), the Witch Head Ne­bula (IC 2118 in Eri­danus the River) and the Horse­head, a dark ne­bula in Cygnus (the Swan).

If there is no ob­vi­ous shape astronomers’ imag­i­na­tions seem to leave them and they re­vert to la­bels like “Dark Doodad” or the “Larry, Moe and Curly” Gal­ax­ies. I am not kid­ding, th­ese are of­fi­cial names too.

On the Moon, the dark ar­eas called maria (“seas”) and lighter-coloured moun­tain­ous re­gions are used to see a long list of imag­i­nary ob­jects. There is an ant with open pin­cers, a rab­bit (two ac­tu­ally), a lady read­ing a book (she has a flower stuck in her hat) and a Chi­nese man hold­ing a bag of rice look­ing at the full Moon. Don’t be­lieve me? Search Google for “lu­nar parei­do­lia.”

My favourite full Moon face how­ever is not the Man in the Moon, which is pretty crude, but a much more beau­ti­ful “Lady in the Moon” — a fe­male face seen in pro­file. She is on the right half of the Moon look­ing left and can be seen when­ever the Moon is a bit more than half il­lu­mi­nated and wax­ing gib­bous (get­ting more full). The pair of images supplied here shows the nor­mal full Moon (left) and my Lady in the Moon out­line on the right.

To me she is just gor­geous and on nights when her light makes faint ob­jects like the Dark Horse or Veil Ne­bula not worth look­ing at (and for­get about the faint “Three Stooges” Gal­ax­ies), she is still a wel­come com­pan­ion in my sky. Ex­plor­ing the craters and moun­tains on her face with my telescope is still a nice way to fill an hour or two on a pleas­ant, bug-free Septem­ber evening.

The jewel on her neck­lace is es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing. This is the crater Ty­cho with a bright splat­ter of fine dust that was ex­pelled onto the Moon’s sur­face when the small as­ter­oid smashed into it mil­lions of years ago. The rays are so ex­ten­sive they can be traced all the way around to the back­side of the Moon. All this can be seen with the un­aided eye, but try a pair of binoc­u­lars or a small telescope: spec­tac­u­lar.

The Lady in the Moon will be vis­i­ble any­time af­ter Sept. 28 when the Moon is at, or past its first quar­ter phase. She con­tin­ues to shine in the sky for the Hunter’s Moon on Oct. 5, and for a few days after­wards. But dur­ing last quar­ter and the New Moon, the lu­nar Lady hides her face for a time. Not to worry, she is back again light­ing our skies for the next first quar­ter and full phases.

Our next pub­lic view­ing night sched­uled for Oct. 21 at the Fox Ob­ser­va­tory near Wiar­ton is pur­posely dur­ing a New Moon phase so we can ob­serve faint ce­les­tial ob­jects. But no tele­scopes are needed when the full Moon is bright above our hori­zon and the lovely Lady graces the cool au­tumn night sky. On a nice fall evening, she is def­i­nitely worth a look.

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