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Mars and Moon Same Size? Annual Email Hoax Dupes Stargazers

Image: Mars and Moon Same Size? Annual Email Hoax Dupes Stargazers

By Clyde Hughes   |   Wednesday, 28 Aug 2013 01:06 PM

Stargazers shouldn't feel upset if they didn't catch Mars shining as bright and as large as the moon Wednesday night – because the hyped up sighting didn't even happen.

The supposed Mars sighting is a long-held urban legend, according to Space.com. Every August, an email makes the rounds claiming that Mars will appear as large in the night sky on Aug. 27 as the full moon. That email is a hoax.

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"The yearly re-circulation of the phony information has earned Aug. 27 the nickname 'Mars Hoax Day.' The hoax, which has fooled countless people since it first originated in 2003, may have begun in innocence," Space.com reported.

Astronomer Phil Plait wrote in a Slate.com column that he remembers the original Mars hoax email in 2003.

"Because I am kind-hearted, I attribute that to a simple misread of the original idea: On that date, through a telescope that magnifies an image 75x, Mars would look as big as the Moon does to the naked eye," Plait wrote.

The email was never corrected and it circulates year after year. This month, Mars is on the opposite side of the sun, so there was even greater interest in how the planet appears.

"If I sound a bit exasperated, that’s because I am," Plait said in a Slate.com article on Aug. 22. "This rumor started off innocently enough a decade ago, but now is clearly a hoax. . . . I generally have no problems with good-natured pranks on the 'Net, but this one is tiresome at best and is damaging at worst. Why? Because people believe and then go outside to find Mars. They’ll be disappointed, which is just about the worst emotion I want people to feel about astronomy."

The moon sits an average of 238,000 miles from Earth. At roughly twice the size of the moon, Mars would have to be 476,000 miles closer to appear as large as the moon from Earth to the naked eye, according to Space.com.

In 2003, the Earth and Mars were the closest they had been to each other in 50,000 years, which was 33.6 million miles. In 2018, Earth and Mars will be 35.8 million miles from each other, according to UniverseToday.com.

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