Science@NASA: The Mutating Mars Hoax

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Science@NASA: The Mutating Mars Hoax

Post by bystander » Thu Aug 26, 2010 3:18 pm

The Mutating Mars Hoax
NASA Science News | 25 Aug 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 Earth and swell to the size of a full Moon. "NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN," the email declares--always in caps.

News flash: It's not true.

Here are the facts. On August 27, 2010, Mars will be 314 million km from Earth, about as far away as it can get. Mars will shine in the western sky after sunset like a tiny red star of ordinary brightness. If you didn't know it was there, you probably wouldn't notice.

The origins of the Hoax can be traced back to 2003 when Mars really did swell to unusual proportions. On August 27th of that year, Mars came within 56 million km of Earth—the nearest it has been in 60,000 years. People marveled at the orange brilliance of Mars in the night sky and crowded around telescopes for clear views of the planet's towering volcanoes, ruddy plains and glistening polar ice caps. At the height of the display, Mars was about 75 times smaller than the full Moon.
Here's what you should do on August 27th. Go outside at sunset and face west. The bright light you see shining through the twilight is lovely Venus. Grab a pair of binoculars and scan the sky around Venus. A few degrees to the right, you'll come across a little orange star-like object. That is Mars.

Now go back inside and delete that email.
Moon-Size View of Mars? An Old Hoax Returns | NightSky | 25 Aug 2010
The infamous Mars hoax that widely circulated on the Internet since its first appearance in the summer of 2004 is rearing its head again. It comes in the form of an e-mail message titled "Mars Spectacular," originating from an unknown source.

The Mars hoax e-mail has been passed on to countless others who haven't been able to resist forwarding it to their entire address book. In some cases, the message has been turned into a full-blown PowerPoint presentation, accompanied by snazzy-looking graphics seemingly providing a sense of authenticity to the message.

The e-mail declares that on the night of Aug. 27, the planet Mars will come closer to Earth than it has in 60,000 years, thereby offering spectacular views of the Red Planet. The commentary even proclaims, with liberal use of exclamation marks, that Mars will appear as bright as (or as large as) the full moon.

The problem is that "Aug. 27" is actually Aug. 27, 2003. Mars made a historically close pass by Earth that night (34.6 million miles, or 55.7 million km). The Hubble Space Telescope used the opportunity to make some great images of Mars. But even then, to the naked eye Mars appeared as nothing more than an extremely bright yellowish-orange star, not at all like the full moon.

It is impossible for Mars to ever appear as large at the moon. [Amazing Mars Photos]

This Mars sky map shows the location of Mars in the night sky on Friday, Aug. 27 at 9 p.m. EDT as seen from the northeastern United States, weather permitting.