Martian Misinformation

Aug 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."

"NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN."

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: Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The mutating Mars hoax

Aug 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 ...

Close Encounter with Mars

Jan 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.

Solar Wind Rips Up Martian Atmosphere

Nov 21, 2008

Researchers have found new evidence that the atmosphere of Mars is being stripped away by solar wind. It's not a gently continuous erosion, but rather a ripping process in which chunks of Martian air detach ...

Mars Doubles in Brightness

Nov 22, 2007

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

Hurtling Toward Mars

Aug 21, 2007

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

Beware the Mars Hoax

Jul 08, 2005

by Dr. Tony Phillips Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter--but not as close as some people think There's a rumor going around. You might have heard it at a 4th of July BBQ or family get-together. More likely ...

Recommended for you

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

19 hours ago

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

23 hours ago

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...