Mars attacks again, again

By Phil Plait | August 8, 2006 10:26 pm

That’s not a typo.

That &)#@)(&%$) email is being sent around again, saying that Mars will look as big as the moon on August 27. That email was sent out in 2003 and again, reproduced almost exactly, in 2005.

And here we are, again, so I have to debunk it, again. I wrote up yet another web page about this email. This makes the third time I’ve had to do it, too. Sigh.

If you have any lingering doubts, this image may clear them up.

It’s a telescopic view of a very rare event: the Moon passing directly in front of (what astronomers call "occulting") Mars. Look at the size difference! Physically, Mars is about twice the size of the Moon. But even at best it’s more than 140 times farther away, so it appears — again, at best — about 1/70th as big as the Moon.

Oh — on August 27th, 2006, Mars will be about as far away as it can be, since it’s on the other side of the Sun from us right now. So it’ll be invisible for all practical purposes, lost in the glare.

So there you go. If you’re looking for a giant Mars looming above you in the sky, you’ll have to wait until you can buy a ticket and go there.

Update (Aug. 22, 2006): I neglected to add a credit to the image above. It’s Ron Dantowitz, Clay Center Observatory at Dexter and Southfield Schools, and clicking it will take you to a site with fantastic images in the gallery!


Comments (37)

  1. Christian Burnham

    Don’t worry- if need be, I can squish Mars between my finger and thumb.

  2. KingNor

    is the photo in this blog a real photo?

  3. hale_bopp

    I just had to debunk this one again yesterday. How many Augusts in a row will we have to deal with this one?


  4. folcrom

    At the rate our world is going, with it’s petty, pathetic, political problems always absorbing our resources, it will be a long, long time before we can buy a ticket to Mars.


  5. Yeah I got that damn thing again from a friend, it’s annoying to be a killjoysmartass about it. But hey, we’re right.

    And wow, that photo is amazing! Got any more for us?

  6. The photo is absolutely astonishing. May I ask how big is the crater in the very center of it? Just to get a REAL idea of the size, because there isn’t much curvature to the edge of the Moon…

  7. The crappy mail is back in portuguese, too. But hey, what a GREAT photo. Was it photoshopped to show the relative sizes, using two different pictures, as I suspect?

  8. PK

    Wow, what a FANTASTIC photo!

    BTW, I haven’t seen this Mars email at all (ever).

  9. Liam

    Is that an honest-to-god genuine photo? It’s cool :)

  10. Marlayna

    Could someone explain the blue glow in the photograph? Is it a defect of the camera or what?

  11. Marlayna, if you’re speaking about that blueish patch on Mars, I believe it’s its polar cap.

  12. Grand Lunar

    I’m too in awe about that photo! I never saw something like that! Wonder what sort of ‘scope accomplished that.

    Goes to show that the universe is cool enough as it is without introducing other stuff about it.

  13. Tom K

    From Phil’s original post he says, “It’s a telescopic view of a very rare event: the Moon passing directly in front of (what astronomers call “occulting”) Mars.”

    Then the second post asks if it’s a real photo and Phil replies, “Yup.”

    Still, at least two more people ask if it’s a real photo, or if it’s a photoshop composite. Geez, are people reading impaired?

  14. Nooooooooo not again. My inbox is full of these storys. See you again next year Mars Hoax.


  15. Tom K

    Speaking of reading impaired, the original email from 2003 says, “At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.”

    As pointed out in the Snopes article, “The message quoted above was often reproduced with an unfortunate line break in the middle of the second sentence of the second paragraph, leaving some readers with the mistaken impression that Mars would “look as large as the full moon to the naked eye” and not realizing that the statement only applied to those using viewing Mars through a scope with 75-power magnification.” I suspect the break in the original (a photo of Mars was inserted) was deliberate to snare the casual reader. Also, since the email doesn’t seem to mention the year involved it’ll probably keep coming back every damn August.

  16. RAD

    This would explain the moon turning to blood though.

  17. Karnalis

    I had to inform my co-workers not to pay attention to that e-mail when one of them sent it around to everyone not too long ago. I knew it was wrong because for one thing, I remembered seeing it a couple of years ago, and two, I remembered the BA ranting about it in his blog. Ranting can be helpful!

  18. Navneeth

    My mom got a message in her cell phone which said almost the same things, excpet that Mars would be around 35 miles from Earth! (Yes, you read it right, three-five miles). I had to reply, quite politely, the sender being a relative of mine, that it was a hoax.

    I’m surprised that not many here have seen the picture posted above. Although, I don’t have the details of the photographer and the ‘scope set-up used, I’ve seen it in many (proper, non-crackpot astronomy) sites.

  19. Bad Albert

    What gets me is that in September, none of the people fooled by this hoax will be asking, “How come I didn’t see Mars last month?”.

  20. Evolving Squid

    Dang, I had a nice post with two cool links in it, but the posting system accused me of spam :(

  21. Bruce M.

    Navneeth said that Mars will be only 35 miles away? COOL!
    I say we all go for lunch one day…getting tired of the local cuisine.
    Better take a boat, though, for the canals.


  22. bearcub

    So far, I haven’t had to re-debunk it this year. Of course, there’s still time………

    Cool pics Mark. The series of saturn must have been tough to balance the Moon’s relative brightness without losing Saturn altogether though.

  23. Navneeth

    It’s funny to note that the picture titled moon.saturn.jpg has actually Jupiter in it. Nevertheless, they are wonderful photos.

    Bruce M,
    Although it said 35 miles, the message never mentioned the side of the planet from which it would be 35 miles away. 😛 Of course, during the days around that closest approach, we can assume that it’ll be withing 100 miles from any point on the Earth. 😆

    P.S. I’ve been seeing that Spam-filter message, too. :(

  24. Crystal

    Last month someone posted this on our companies corporate list serve. I ofcourse was quick to reply, and referred your site Phil! (also snopes)
    When will the madness cease?

  25. Dan Gerhards

    Just so you don’t feel all alone, I’ve been debunking that every year too. Random people keep sending it to me. Of course, no one sent it to me when Mars was *actually* at its closest–and I found out about it without having to see it in an email!

  26. Chip

    That’s the “Mars Illusion”. See, if you’re standing on the Moon, Mars looks a lot bigger near the horizon but later appears tiny overhead because….(just kidding.)

  27. George

    Looking at Mars, one will see an object the size of the Moon – it’s the sun!

    Wonderous image, BA, thanks.

  28. “I can squish Mars between my finger and thumb.”

    I krrruschhh your planet! (Kids in the Hall)

  29. Tom

    I’ve already been asked if my astronomy club was going to have a Mars viewing event later this month. I gently referred the guy asking to one of the many websites describing what wasn’t going to happen. *Sigh*


  30. Joel

    That image is very, very cool. I’ve been searching around for it online and haven’t found it. Where did you get it? The closest I could find are these nice pix:

    Clearly the photo is from the same occultation (July 17, 2003), but the resolution and color on teh BA Blog are impressively sharp and good. Very good. Almost TOO good… The quality and color of Mars reminds me of a lot of the Mars images from Hubble, so that also makes me suspicious.

  31. Troy

    What I find interesting is b.s. travels quicker than fact. Let’s see I released an email saying Mars will appear at a whopping 3″ of arc and isn’t all the easy to see right now it wouldn’t get forwarded at all!

    Nice image that’s a candidate for the forward button.

  32. Miss Nari

    This is a scary thought. The moon’s gravitational pull already causes the rise and fall of tides. And Mars getting REALLY REALLY close to earth and looking as big as the full moon? Give me a break. Mars that far is impossible to come too close to earth. Even if it were, just imagine what the tides would be like. Mars’ strong gravity would not just cause high tides, it would probably create TSUNAMIS and TIDAL WAVES! And there’s even a funny line at the bottom of the e-mail I received, “No one alive today is ever going to see this again”. Now that’s a kicker, because if this were true, you and I and the rest of the billion species would probably not live to see the next sunrise. And no one alive today is ever going to receive this superly-exaggerated e-mail again.

  33. Shannon

    My 10 year old daughter’s school was teaching this crap. They sent her home a week ago ranting and raving about a mars video they watched. I tried to explain to her that it was not possible, but….well, she’s ten. I can’t believe a teacher fell for this.

  34. icemith

    Navneeth Says: …Mars would be around 35 miles from Earth!…

    He was quoting his mother’s relation’s comment, and I believe they both did not realise exactly what was said.

    They did get part of the distance right – the ’35’ bit – unfortunately didn’t say the ‘million’ bit. Thirty-five million miles is actually the closest approach to Earth, I seem to remember from my school days. I believe our blogger friend would have put them right.

    A case of a little knowledge not fully understood. At least somebody was interested. I’m surprised nobody mentioned how the little (?) mistake could have happened.



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