Mars and the Full Moon

Every year I see this, especially around the Pagan community. The first year I fell for it too, eight years ago. It isn’t like I’m not sympathetic, but people should know the truth, so I tell them, every… single… year. Here is all the information you need to know about this hoax.

In 2003 an email began to circulate with the following text courtesy of Universe Today:

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. 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

According to Earth Sky:

In 2003, Mars came minutely closer to Earth than it had been in almost 60,000 years. These very close martian oppositions happen every 15 or 17 years. They happen when Earth passes between the sun and Mars within a few weeks of Mars’ perihelion (the point in its orbit when it is closest to the sun). Was Mars as large as the moon on August 27, 2003 then? No. But Mars was incredibly bright and amazing in 2003 – like a dot of flame in the night sky.

Then in 2005, according to Bad Astronomy:

In fact, in 2005, Mars will be closest to Earth in late October, not August. It’ll be about 70 million kilometers (45 million miles) away (compared to 56 million km/35 million miles in 2003). While farther away than in 2003, for northern hemisphere observers it’ll be placed higher in the sky, and so it’ll be easier to see and look better in a telescope, even though it will look smaller than it did two years ago.

The fact is Mars can never look that big. Take this example from Live Science:

But Mars did not then, and cannot ever, appear as large as the moon. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, put the 2003 close pass in cosmic perspective:

“The proximity of Mars to Earth in 2003, while indeed closer than in the past 60,000 years, was nonetheless no more meaningful than me swimming a hundred yards out from the California coast (instead of my usual seventy yards) and then declaring to the world, ‘I have never been this close to China before.'”

So there you have it. Now you can all stop circulating this nonsense.

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