Friday, August 27, 2010

Moon-Size Mars Tonight! Please: Don't Pass It On

"Moon-Size View of Mars? An Old Hoax Returns " (August 26, 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...."

I think this recurring hoax depends of most folks:
  • Not being terribly interested in
    • Astronomy
    • Orbital mechanics
    • Math, particularly
      • Algebra
      • Geometry
  • Having short memories for anything that's not on their 'top priority' list
  • The psychological quirks that make scams work
Back to the article:

"...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...."

The article tells you where to look for Mars in the sky - and assumes that you're in the northern hemisphere of Earth. If you live near or south of the equator, you're probably used to that sort of hemispheric parochialism by now.

Mars is bigger than our moon: Almost twice Luna's diameter.

It's also a whole lot farther away. A whole lot farther:

"...The average distance of the moon from Earth is 238,000 miles (382,900 km). For Mars to appear to loom as large as the moon does, it would have to be about twice the Moon's distance, or roughly 476,000 miles (766,000 km).

"In fact, this week the Red Planet is 198 million miles (318 million km) from Earth...."

Okay, let's review that.
  • To look as big as our moon, Mars would have to be
    • 476,000 miles away from us
  • Today, Mars is about
    • 198,000,000 miles away from us
Nope, Mars will not seem to be as big as the moon. Not even close.

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