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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Mars will NOT be close to Earth, nor “as large as the Moon” in August – this year or ever!

Forget what you might have read in an email, or on Facebook, or whatever – this is the truth about how we see Mars on those every-other-year occasions when we see it at its best!   This graphic was created  by Tom Harradine and highlights the  simple reality – Mars will never be as big or as bright as the Full Moon, or even a crescent Moon.


Click the graphic to get a larger version.

Sorry I have to write this, but every August since 2003 I have gotten questions about a spectacular showing of Mars in our sky because an anonymous email   or social media post makes the rounds of the Internet causing people to get excited. THIS EMAIL IS NOT TRUE. I wrote about it other years pn this site. Here’s my updated version.

The most outrageous claim in this email goes something like this:

On the night of Aug. 27, the planet Mars will come closer to Earth than it has in the past 60,000 years, thereby offering spectacular views of the Red Planet.  Mars will appear to the naked eye as bright as and as large as the full moon. No one living today will ever see this again!

No one living today will ever see this. Period. OK. here’s the simple truth.  An hour before dawn  August 27, 2013 Mars will be rising in the east and be about two fists – 20 degrees – above the horizon. It will shine a little dimmer than  two nearby stars, Castor and Pollux. As always it will have a reddish tinge to it, but to the naked eye look just like any bright star. 

In a very good telescope, Mars will look like a very tiny planet, about one-fifth the size it is when it actually does make a relatively close approach to Earth.  Mars and the Earth are relatively  close to one another  – 35 to 60 million miles apart – every two years.  In AUgust 2013 Mars is about 214 million miles away, or bout 6 times as far away as it it is on closest approach and this appearing – telescopes – about one sixth the size it appears on closest approach.   (Mar’s at it’s absolute closest is still – in telescopes – only about half the size of Jupiter.

Is there any truth in the email? Yes, there are some grains of truth here, but even they are usually distorted. This all began because in August 2003 Mars really did make an unusually close approach to Earth – but by unusual we mean just a bit closer than it gets routinely every two years.  During a close approach such as the one in 2003 Mars can be 24 seconds of arc across – and sometimes it’s “close” approach means its half that size.

In short, this Mars email is just another Internet urban legend telling us things that would be fun if they were true, but really are far, far from the truth. For details on this, please visit the Snopes.com site – in fact, anytime you receive an email that sounds too good to be true – on almost any subject – check snopes.com before you forward the email to friends. It’s a great clearing house for getting out the truth on these legends.

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