Posted by: Donna Cunningham | June 9, 2009

It’s Baaaaaack–The Mars Hoax!

You probably know it’s a hoax already, but you’re bound to hear it again from excited newbies.  The Mars Hoax is already making its annual summer rounds, telling you to watch for an event that’s supposedly not going to happen again for 60,000 years.  Here’s the definitive explanation from NASA, in its Science News eletter at:   By the way, it’s an excellent source of astronomical news available by free subscription.   Here’s what it said:

“June 9, 2009: Just when you thought it was safe to check your email…

For the sixth year in a row, a message about the Red Planet is popping up in email boxes around the world. It instructs readers to go outside after dark on August 27th and behold the sky. “Mars will look as large as the full moon,” it says. “No one alive today will ever see this again.”

Don’t believe it.

Here’s what will really happen if you go outside after dark on August 27th. Nothing. Mars won’t be there. On that date, the red planet will be nearly 250 million km away from Earth and completely absent from the evening sky.

Right: Only in Photoshop does Mars appear as large as a full Moon.

The Mars Hoax got its start in 2003 when Earth and Mars really did have a close encounter. On Aug. 27th of that year, Mars was only 56 million km away, a 60,000-year record for martian close approaches to Earth. Someone sent an email alerting friends to the event. The message contained some misunderstandings and omissions—but what email doesn’t? A piece of advanced technology called the “forward button” did the rest.

Tolerant readers may say that the Mars Hoax is not really a hoax, because it is not an intentional trick. The composer probably believed everything he or she wrote in the message. If that’s true, a better name might be the “Mars Misunderstanding” or maybe the “Confusing-Email-About-Mars-You-Should-Delete-and-Not-Forward-to-Anyone-Except-Your-In-Laws.”

Another aspect of the Mars Hoax: It says Mars will look as large as the full Moon if you magnify it 75x using a backyard telescope. The italicized text is usually omitted from verbal and written summaries of the Hoax. (For example, see the beginning of this story.) Does this fine print make the Mars Hoax true? After all, if you magnify the tiny disk of Mars 75x, it does subtend an angle about the same as the Moon. No. Even with magnification, Mars does not look the same as a full Moon.”



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