28 August 2015 News

August skywatching hoax: why do people think Mars will look as big as the moon?

Ever since 2003, as we near the date of August 27th, rumours that “Mars is about to look as large as the moon in the night sky” inevitably begin to pop up.

It was the same this week, and it may continue for a good while longer.

Anyone who gives the issue a second thought will instantly notice how silly the idea is. Mars is over 225 million kilometres away from the Earth. The moon is 384,400 kilometres away from the Earth.

You can see the problem right away. Unless Mars suddenly abandons its orbit and goes waltzing toward our own planet (for…for whatever crazy reason hoax fans manage to come up with), it is NOT going to look anywhere NEAR as large as the moon.

But why does the hoax persist? Space.com traces it to an e-mail that was frequently forwarded in 2003. The author was merely trying to get people psyched about an unusually close Mars approach. But slightly poor wording and people’s eagerness to overlook basic facts meant that the Mars skywatching hoax was born.

So do us a favour. Next year, when August rolls around and some people inevitably begin to get excited about something scientifically impossible, show them this article. And then recommend a good pair of binoculars to enjoy Mars just as it is, sitting pretty amongst the other planets and cool cosmic objects in the late summer sky.

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