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Mars Attacks Again, Again!

August 8, 2006

I can't believe I'm writing this, again!

The email is going around again. You know which one: "Mars will look as big as the Moon!" it says. It gives dates and numbers, and breathlessly exclaims that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

If only.

This is a shot through a telescope during a rare passage of the Moon directly in front of Mars. Note the size difference between the two. The Moon appears to be a lot bigger because it is so much closer to us than Mars.

This is the same email that was sent around in 2003. In fact, it's the same email that was sent around again in 2005!

The origin of the first email is shrouded in mystery. It's mostly correct, it's just overblown. The reason it was sent around again in 2005 isn't clear, though it may have been sent around by astronomers as a joke. If that's true, it proves my fear as a skeptic: never make up a dumb story just to see if you can fool The Believers, or as a joke, or for any reason. It'll bite you back, guaranteed.

Anyway, for a detailed debunking of the contents of the email, check out my older two links. But there is another twist to this story this year, though.

Whoever sent the email around this time didn't change any of the numbers. This is ironic because Mars is on the other side of the Sun from us right now. It's practically invisible, lost in the glare of the Sun. People looking for it are in for a disappointment.

Even more irony: since Mars is on the other side of the Sun from us, it's as far away as it can possibly be, not as close as it gets! On the date mentioned in the email, August 27, 2006, Mars will be 385 million kilometers away (about 240 million miles). The email says it will only be 35 million miles away. Oops! What's a factor of 7 between spammers?

In fact, Mars won't get close to the Earth again until December 2007, and even then it'll be 20% farther than it was back in 2003. And even then it didn't looks as big as the Moon.

Sigh. My work will never end.

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©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

This page last modified Saturday, 05-Mar-2011 18:03:18 UTC
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