A Recurrent Mars Hoax

I am writing this post to being awareness to a recurrent Mars hoax that keeps resurfacing every year on social media. Today, I came upon this Facebook post which was shared more than 40,000 times.

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I cannot help but imagine the number of people who will stay up late on August 27th staring at the sky.

This classic perpetually recurring hoax keeps presenting itself rather inconveniently every year. It is complete nonsense. Mars has already made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years back on August 27th, 2003, in a special opposition called a perihelic opposition. As Earth orbits the sun faster than Mars, Earth later catches up with Mars and becomes adjacent to it when it’s at the closest point to the Sun. The last time Mars came this close (as 2003) was estimated to have taken place on September 12th, 57617 BC and the next closest approach is estimated to take place in the year 2287. But, even back in 2003, at its closest approach, Mars looked nothing more than shiny red flaring beacon. And through a telescope, it just looked like a disc. It was within 55, 758,006 kilometres of Earth and only looked 6 times larger than its normal size. It was never as large as the moon. Mars can never appear as large as the moon. It is locked in orbit. In order to appear as large as the moon, it would have to be at a distance of about 766,000 kilometres from Earth, at which point the gravitational pulls would cause immense tides. It would be a really terrible day. Nothing of the sort happened in 2003 when the perihelic opposition occurred.

Nothing so particularly intriguing about Mars will happen in August 2015.  Mars is not even expected to be at its brightest anytime in 2015. It has so far been relatively unspectacular as it is still on the far side of the sun from us, at about 385 million kilometres away.

I understand that this might not be such a serious matter that it would warrant a blog post. But, this Mars hoax keeps re-emerging every single year on social media and I am thoroughly fatigued by the displeasure of having to come upon it every year. It was probably inspired by the 2003 event and has not died out since.

Featured image courtesy of: NASA

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