They say nothing can live forever, but I strongly disagree. Post something absurd on the Internet, and I guarantee it will never go away. In fact, it will come back to life time and time and time again.
A perfect example is the “Mars as big as the full moon” story. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen what has become known as the “Mars hoax” — that near the end of August, we will experience the most spectacular sight in the history of life on this planet with Mars swelling in our sky to the size of the full moon!
I thought the story was finally dead, but no! Not only has it come back to life, but it’s morphed into a slightly different form. Now the online posts tell us that on Aug. 27 we’ll see two moons in the sky … except that one of them will be Mars, something that “won’t occur again until the year 2287.”
Now if you haven’t heard about this grand event, then you’re obviously not connected in any way to a computer, nor do you know anyone who is.
In recent years, the story has become so widespread that folks have bought up binoculars and telescopes in anticipation of sharing with parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren a celestial event that “no one alive today will ever see again.”
Just one problem. It has never happened, nor can it ever happen. In a word … it’s bunk. Fake news at its finest!
If you’ve encountered this story, you’re seeing information recirculated from the close approach of Mars on Aug. 27, 2003, along with bogus details thrown in for good measure. In that year, Mars approached to about 35 million miles of Earth — about as close as it can ever come — and even then, it appeared as only a bright reddish-orange star in our sky.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the story is true — that Mars could indeed appear in our sky as large as the moon. For this to happen, the red planet would need to approach to within 484,000 miles, or about twice the distance of the moon itself.
That would indeed be quite impressive, but its gravitational pull would, at the very least, raise tides on our planet that would wipe out entire coastal cities.
Now, one can be gullible and buy into all this or … and this is where it gets really crazy … go outside and look. What a concept!
Head outdoors after dark on Aug, 27 and you’ll see the waxing gibbous moon in the southern sky. And, while I cannot predict the future, I’d be willing to bet good money that there will appear only one.
You will also see the planets Jupiter and Saturn to the moon’s left. But where’s Mars? Well, if you wait until near midnight, you will see Mars low in the eastern sky and the moon low in the southwest.
What do you think — same size?
Doesn’t matter anyway. Apparently, reality has no place on the Internet, so I can promise you’ll find this ridiculous story resurfacing every summer from now until the very end of time.
— Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with him on Facebook: @dennismammana. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.