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Mars Spectacular


Claim:   The planet Mars will make a once-in-our-lifetimes, remarkably close approach to Earth on 27 August 2014.

FALSE

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, August 2014]

SEE MARS AS LARGE AS THE FULL MOON ON 27TH AUGUST 2014. Should be spectacular! Truly a once in a lifetime experience!


 

[Collected via e-mail, August 2013]

August 27 at 00:30 Lift up your eyes and look up at the night sky. On this night, the planet Mars will pass just 34.65 million miles from the earth. To the naked eye it looks like two of the moon above the ground! The next time Mars will be so close to the Earth as much as in 2287. Share the news with your friends, because no one living on this earth has ever seen this!
 

[Collected via e-mail, June 2010]

Two moons on 27th August 2010

27th Aug the Whole World is waiting for.............

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles off earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons.

The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again.
 

[Collected via e-mail, July 2007]

*Two moons on 27 August*

27th Aug the Whole World is waiting for...*

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August.

It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again.
 

[Collected via e-mail, July 2003]

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. 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 as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of 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 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its 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. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN
 

Origins:   Some things never go out of style, and this "Mars Spectacular" message is one of them. It's yet another example of a widely-circulated e-mail containing information that was once true but which continues to be forwarded around year after year, long after the information it contains has become outdated.

Mars did make an extraordinarily close approach to Earth over ten years ago, culminating on 27 August 2003, when the red planet came within 35 million miles (or 56 million kilometers) of Earth, its nearest approach to us in almost 60,000 years. At that time, Mars appeared approximately 6 times larger and 85 times brighter in the sky than it ordinarily does. (One version of the message was often reproduced with an unfortunate line break, leaving some readers with the mistaken impression that Mars would "look as large as the full moon to the naked eye" without realizing that that statement only applied to those viewing Mars through a telescope with 75-power magnification.)

Although Mars' proximity to Earth in August 2003 (referred to as a
perihelic opposition) was a rare occurrence, the red planet comes almost as near to us every 15 to 17 years. To the unaided observer, Mars' appearance in August 2003 wasn't significantly larger or brighter than it is during those much more common intervals of closeness.

Mars had another close encounter with Earth in 2005, but that occurrence took place in October (not August), and the red planet appeared about 20% smaller than it did during similar circumstances in 2003. Mars also made a close approach to Earth in December 2007, but even then it was still about 55 million miles away from us, not nearly as close as it was in 2003 or 2005. Not until 2018 will our view of Mars be similar to the one that was available in 2003, and it won't be until the year 2287 that Mars will come closer to Earth than it did back in 2003.

As for 2014, EarthSky reports that:
The moon will not be full on August 27, 2014 (you might spot it briefly as a thin crescent in the west after sunset, though). And Mars will not be at its brightest or closest in August of 2014, or at any time in 2014. In 2014, Mars is closest to Earth on April 8, but it won’t be as close this year as in some years.
Texas astronomer Torvald Hessel observed the following in a 2006 interview about the perennial "Mars Spectacular" message:
Q: What's the truth?

A: Mars gets close to Earth every two years. So, last year, Mars was very close. Three years ago, it was spectacularly close ... And right now, I'm sad to say, Mars is actually behind the Sun; we can't see it at all.

Q: How wide spread is this falsehood?

A: People get excited about it, start to send e-mail ... and every August we see this e-mail coming back and I get a lot of e-mails about it, of course.
The web site of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) provides a chart displaying data about Mars Oppositions (past, present, and future), and the web site of the Hubble Heritage Project offers some nice composite telescope images from previous Mars near oppositions.

Additional information:
Beware the Mars Hoax Beware the Mars Hoax
(NASA)
Mars at Its All-Time Finest Mars at Its All-Time Finest
(Sky & Telescope)
Approaching Mars Approaching Mars (2003)
(NASA)
Last updated:   5 August 2014

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Sources:

    Britt, Robert Roy.   "Orbital Oddities: Why Mars Will Be So Close to Earth in August."
    space.com.   21 January 2003.

    MacRobert, Alan.   "The August Mars Hoax Is Back."
    Sky & Telescope.   25 July 2007.

    Rao, Joe.   "Mars to Get Closer Than Ever in Recorded History in 2003."
    space.com.   8 November 2002.

    Sinnott, Roger W.   "A Mars Record for the Ages."
    Sky & Telescope.

    Troiani, Daniel M.   "Mars at Its All-Time Finest."
    Sky & Telescope.   3 August 2005.

    News 8 Austin.   "Mars Isn't Getting Close."
    17 August 2006.