Hoax Time Again for Mars?
Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
by AJ Plunkett
All this interest in Mars since the Curiosity rover landing is amazing. But let’s get a few things straight.
- Mars is the fourth planet from the sun.
- Mars has a day that is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds long.
- Because of its orbit, Mars occasionally come closer to the Earth than at other times.
But it will never — ever — appear as big as the Moon to the naked eye, no matter what that recent email might have said.
That well-shared email is a hoax, says the Canadian Space Agency. But it’s a persistent one, which has led some to give it credibility.
The space agency says the Mars hoax may have arisen “in part because Mars appeared to be larger than usual on Aug. 27, 2003, when it made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years”.
“Although the Red Planet appeared to be six times larger than usual at the time, its diameter was nowhere near to being as large as that of the Moon. Given the great distance between Earth and Mars, the Red Planet cannot possibly appear to be as big as the Moon,” the agency said.
In trying to dispel the same hoax some seven years ago (did we mention the hoax has been around for awhile?), NASA’s Science News page explained that while Mars does appear brighter when it comes closer to the Earth, it would still only look like a bright red star — “a pinprick of light, certainly not as wide as the full Moon”.
More importantly, NASA noted that if Mars did ever come close enough to the Earth to “rival the Moon,” the Red Planet’s gravity would “alter the Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides”.
Hoax Be Gone
Snopes.com, the website devoted to dispelling urban myths and Internet hoaxes, says the Mars-Moon hoax has been going around for years, often in the form of an e-mail with the subject “Mars Spectacular”.
According to Snopes.com, that original e-mail about the 2003 Mars approach apparently had an unfortunate line break in the middle of a sentence that left the impression the planet would appear as large as the moon — but only if someone were looking at the moon with the naked eye and Mars through a really, really powerful telescope.
You can see how the mistake was made — whoever reads an entire e-mail message?
The good news is that there is a new Mars spectacular overtaking the World Wide Web. And this time, it’s not about an optical illusion.
Images of Mars up close and personal — and real — are available from the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. Almost every day.
Just go to the Internet. That’s no hoax.
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries, as well as health care issues. AJ blogs via Contently.com.