Time again for summer Mars hoax

Astronomers are once again having to deny a silly internet scare story that Mars is about to become as big in the sky as the Moon.

A hoax email sweeping the world claims that the planet is racing towards the Earth for a close encounter on August 27.

It says: “The Red Planet is about to be spectacular. Earth is catching up with Mars for the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. On August 27, Mars will look as large as the full moon. No one alive today will ever see this again.”

But Nasa’s Dr Tony Phillips says the email is a hoax by someone confused with Mars’s bright appearance in the sky in 2003. At that time it did look as large as the Moon – but only if you magnified it by looking through a big telescope.

He pointed out: “If Mars did come close enough to rival the Moon, its gravity would alter Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides.”

Alan MacRobert, a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine said: “The Mars chain letter gets revived every August. “I see it as a good thing, not a bad thing. It’s an immunization. If you make a fool of yourself by sending it
to your friends and family, you’ll be less likely to send them the next
e-mail chain letter you get, which may not be so harmless.”

This summer, Mars is actually at its furthest from Earth, on the other side of the sun and hidden in its glare. It looks big in our picture – but then that is a photo by the Hubble telescope taken in 1997! Photo: Nasa

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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