Martian Misinformation

August 25, 2006
Martian Misinformation

On Sunday, August 27th, Mars will be far from Earth, dim and unremarkable. In short, a total bore. That's news? It is when a widely-read email claims just the opposite.

Perhaps you've seen it:

"The Red Planet is about to be spectacular."

"Earth is catching up with Mars [for] the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history."

"On August 27th … Mars will look as large as the full moon."


This is called the "Mars Hoax" and, as the name suggests, it is false.

If Mars ever came close enough to Earth to rival the Moon, it would alter Earth's orbit and raise fantastic tides. Impossible: The orbits of Earth and Mars are too far apart. In fact, this month Mars is about as far from Earth as it can get: 385 million km, all the way on the other side of the Solar System.

The Hoax first appeared in 2003. On August 27th of that year, Mars really did come historically close to Earth: 56 million km. But even then the e-mail's claim that Mars would rival the Moon was grossly exaggerated. To the unaided eye, Mars looked like a bright red star, nothing more. In every August since 2003, the email has staged a revival.

If you want to see something truly astronomical on August 27th, wake up before dawn on Sunday and look east. Venus and Saturn are having a close encounter, as shown in the sky map, above. The two planets will be stationed less than half-a-degree apart in the rosy glow of the rising sun. Suggestion: Take your binoculars out with you. Venus is intense, but Saturn is easily lost in the brightening dawn. Binoculars help, and both planets can be seen at once through typical optics--very pretty.

Meanwhile, Mars is a bore. Spread the word.

Source: Science@NASA, by Dr. Tony Phillips

Explore further: The gas (and ice) giant Neptune

Related Stories

The gas (and ice) giant Neptune

September 14, 2015

Neptune is the eight planet from our Sun, one of the four gas giants, and one of the four outer planets in our Solar System. Since the "demotion" of Pluto by the IAU to the status of a dwarf planet – and/or Plutoid and ...

Hurtling Toward Mars

August 21, 2007

By the time you finish reading this sentence, you'll be 25 miles closer to the planet Mars.

The mutating Mars hoax

August 25, 2010

It spreads, it mutates, it refuses to die. For the seventh year in a row, the Mars Hoax is infecting email boxes around the world. Passed from one reader to another, the message states that on August 27th Mars will approach ...

Mars Doubles in Brightness

November 22, 2007

During the past month, Mars has doubled in brightness and it is putting a nice show for backyard stargazers.

Will we ever colonize Mars?

June 1, 2015

Mars. It's a pretty unforgiving place. On this dry, dessicated world, the average surface temperature is -55 °C (-67 °F). And at the poles, temperatures can reach as low as -153 °C (243 °F). Much of that has to do with ...

Close Encounter with Mars

January 26, 2010

It rises in the east at sunset, pumpkin-orange and brighter than a first magnitude star. You stare at it, unblinking. Unblinking, it stares right back. It is Mars.

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.