The Sky is Falling… and Mars is Not Getting any Closer to Us this Year

I got an email from a “reliable source” telling me that I should take Hayden and the family out one night in August to check out the sky and look at Mars because it’s going to be super close to the earth and will appear as bright as the moon.

Well here is a portion of the letter:

…In real life, the Red Planet is going to be the closest to earth in recorded history. Earth is catching up with Mars in a close encounter.

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 at 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on Aug. 27, when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of the 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 arch seconds wide, at a modest 75-power magnification.

Mars will look as bright as the full moon to the naked eye and will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach it’s 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 12:30 a.m.

Children of all ages will enjoy watching at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month.

No one alive today will ever see this again.

Well I thought about this… and it just didn’t sound right, as I remembered something like this from a few years ago.

Sure enough I found this.

…The event described did occur back in 2003, but this message is now hopelessly outdated. No such close approach will occur in 2009

Here is what happened back in 2003 according to a more reliable source:

marsgif

…Earth and Mars are rapidly converging. On August 27, 2003–the date of closest approach–the two worlds will be 56 million km apart. That’s a long way by Earth standards, but only a short distance on the scale of the solar system. NASA, the European Space Agency and Japan are all sending spacecraft to Mars this year. It’s a good time to go…

Science @ NASA

One Response

  1. Ah, the “Mars as big as the Moon” hoax. It has not gone away, but it seems to have faded a bit this year.

    Hard to say if this one started as a deliberate hoax, or simply from ignorance distorting the facts of the 2003 Mars opposition, that was closer than most, but was not that close.

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