Mars Will Look Like a Second Moon Tonight, Says Some Dumb Email Hoax
According to an email that’s going around now and that has apparently recirculated every August since 2003, there are “Two moons [visible in the night sky] on 27th August 2010.” Also, one of them is Mars.
Here’s the basic template for the email:
“Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August.
It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.
Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again.”
As the title of this post suggests, this is not true: NASA informs us that “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 e-mail hoax is, however, based on a grain of reality which has unfortunately snowballed into sensational claims:
Mars did make an extraordinarily close approach to Earth several years ago, culminating on 27 August 2003, when the red planet came within 35 million miles (or 56 million kilometers) of Earth, its nearest approach to us in almost 60,000 years. At that time, Mars appeared approximately 6 times larger and 85 times brighter in the sky than it ordinarily does. (The earlier message quoted above was often reproduced with an unfortunate line break in the middle of the third sentence of the second paragraph, leaving some readers with the mistaken impression that Mars would “look as large as the full moon to the naked eye” without realizing that the statement only applied to those viewing Mars through a telescope with 75-power magnification.)
So on an August 27th seven years ago, Mars did come quite close to Earth, but nowhere near close enough to appear moon-sized to the naked eye; at six times farther away this year, the claims are baseless. If you feel prompted to skygaze anyway, NASA recommends that you check out Venus in the western sky at sunset; it’ll be the brightest “star” in tonight’s sky, as it almost always is.