Got this in an email? Chris was the first of many who sent this to me.

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter’s gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in
the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification

Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye . Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30a.m. That’s pretty
convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow
progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren.


There’s only one problem. IT’S FRIGGIN’ WRONG!!! For starters, the close approach it talks about happened in 2003. That part, at least, is accurate. It was the closest approach in 60,000 years. THREE FREAKING YEARS AGO!!!!! It did not, and will not, appear as large as the full moon. It was a very bright red star at that time (and again last summer when it had another close approach). But it was still 69 million kilometers away. If Mars appeared in our skies as large as the full moon, it would be the last thing we ever saw – the resulting gravitational effect of a body that large so close to the earth (one million kilometers or so) would first raise tides to unimaginable heights, and then gradually begin tearing the earth apart. Life as we know it would have ceased before that happened, and it would have been an unpleasant end. Very unpleasant.

The “as big as the full moon” was a misunderstanding of the original information – through a telescope at 75 power, Mars did appear about the same size as looking at the moon without a telescope. That’s it. No huge red planet lurking in our skies like a deranged mutant Campbell’s Tomato Soup blimp. In fact, this graphic shows the positions of Earth and Mars relative to the Sun now:

Not that Earth is on one side of the Sun, while Mars is way way way on the other side. Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun. Mars is about 160 million miles from the Sun. Allowing for the fact that they’re not on exact opposite side, Earth and Mars are still about 250 million miles apart. That’s a bunch more than 35 million! A bunch more!! So stop sending these freaking emails!!

August 7, 2006 В· Harry В· 3 Comments
Posted in: Stargazing

3 Responses

  1. chris s. - August 7, 2006

    It’s coming right at us!

  2. hellsfury - August 7, 2006

    Apparently this hoax has made it as far as airtime on the radio. My wife just informed me that she heard about this “Hoax” on one of our local radio stations.

  3. jim - August 10, 2006

    This seems to make the rounds every couple months, usually from a clueless relative that just ‘discovered’ email and the internet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten it.