August 25, 2006: On Sunday, August 27th, Mars will be far from Earth, dim
and unremarkable. In short, a total bore.
That's news? It is when a widely-read email claims just the opposite.
Perhaps you've seen it:
"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 27th . Mars will look as large as the full moon."
"NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN."
This is called the "Mars Hoax" and, as the name suggests, it is false.
If Mars ever came close enough to Earth to rival the Moon, it would alter
Earth's orbit and raise fantastic tides. Impossible: The orbits of Earth and
Mars are too far apart. In fact, this month Mars is about as far from Earth
as it can get: 385 million km, all the way on the other side of the Solar
The Hoax first appeared in 2003. On August 27th of that year, Mars really
did come historically close to Earth: 56 million km. But even then the
e-mail's claim that Mars would rival the Moon was grossly exaggerated. To
the unaided eye, Mars looked like a bright red star, nothing more. In every
August since 2003, the email has staged a revival.