"Mars spectacular" event on August 27 a hoax, say astronomers

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Washington, August 27 (ANI): Astronomers have confirmed that an email promising a "Mars spectacular" event on August 27, when the Red Planet will look as large as the full moon, is nothing but a hoax.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the anonymous message from an unknown part of the globe says that the red planet "will look as large as the full moon" in the night sky, and that "no one alive today will ever see this again."

The claim has been bombarding people's inboxes worldwide every summer for five years.

Today, the Mars hoax has grown into a kind of cyber legend-one that astronomers are still struggling to debunk.

"The possibility of seeing Mars as large as the moon strikes the imagination," said Marc Jobin, staff astronomer at the Montreal Planetarium in Quebec.

"The sad reality is that a lot of people have little comprehension of astronomy and are unable to call the hoax," he added.

But, there is a thread of truth that inspired the prank several years ago.

Planets are not on perfectly circular orbits, and during their elliptical paths around the sun, planets can vary in their exact distances to each other over time.

On August 27, 2003, Mars made a historically tight approach to Earth, coming about 56 million kilometers away.

Such a near pass hadn't happened in nearly 60,000 years, and it won't happen again until August 28, 2287.

In 2003, planetariums had sent out notices alerting stargazers of the real astronomical event.

"At the time, through the telescope, Mars looked as large as the full moon would with the naked eye," explained Geza Gyuk, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

Through a backyard telescope with a high-power eyepiece, viewers could even make out many surface features on Mars's disk.

With the naked eye, Mars still appeared as nothing more than a brilliant orange-colored star in the sky.

Still, an email hoax was born.

If the red planet actually did appear as huge as purported in the Mars hoax email, the planet would be just 750,000 kilometers from Earth, or about twice as far away as the moon.

According to Jobin, at that distance, life on Earth would likely be doomed.

Given the interplay of gravity between the planets and the sun, a much closer Mars "would have extreme consequences on the shape of the Earth's orbit, with our planet swinging much closer and much farther away from the sun," he said. (ANI)

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