Mars Close to Earth on August 27?

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Mars August 27
Netlore Archive: Mars as big as the moon on Aug. 27? Recycled hoax claims August 27 will bring the closest encounter between Mars and Earth in recorded history, but this "once in a lifetime event" already came and went in 2003.. Viral images, source unknown

Description: Email rumor / Hoax
Circulating since: 2003 (this version: 2009)
Status: Outdated / False
Analysis: See last page

Full text of rumor:
Email example contributed by Bob H., April 24, 2009:

Mars

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history.

The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again. The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide.

At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.

Share this with your children and grandchildren.

NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

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Image source: Unknown, circulating via email

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Image source: Unknown, circulating via email

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Image source: Unknown, circulating via email

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Image source: Unknown, circulating via email

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Analysis

This rumor bore some semblance to reality when a less elaborate version of it first went around in 2003. It was still somewhat accurate, though outdated, when the identical text reappeared in 2005. It was downright false and annoying when it came back again in 2006, and ridiculously misinformative each time it resurfaced in subsequent years. Most recently we have had: the 2013 version.

The phenomenon variously described as "Mars Spectacular," "Close Encounter with Mars," "Mars Close to Earth," and "Two Moons" in successive versions of the email actually came and went in 2003. On Aug. 27 of that year the orbital paths of Earth and Mars brought the two planets to within 34.65 million miles of each other, closer indeed than at any other time in the past 50,000 years.

Obviously, Mars never actually appeared "as large as the full moon to the naked eye" (that would be physically impossible), but it did look impressive through a telescope, and even to the naked eye the red planet would have seemed a little larger and brighter than usual. Still, the experience was somewhat underwhelming for most non-scientists, I suspect, especially given all the media hype, but for astronomers the 2003 "close encounter with Mars" was legitimately a once-in-a-lifetime event.

More spacey urban legends:
Bigfoot on Mars
The "Eye of God" in Outer Space
Did NASA Scientists Confirm the Biblical "Missing Day in Time"?
Real Photo of "Double Sunset" on Mars?
Did NASA Predict a "Total Blackout" of Earth in Dec. 2012?
• Did Astronauts Conduct Sex Experiments in Space?

News coverage:

Quashing the Myth of a Moon-Sized Mars
Fox News, 26 August 2010

The Mutating Mars Hoax
NASA Science News, 25 August 2010

Sky-Watcher Beware: Mars Email a 'Spectacular' Hoax
Nat'l Geographic News, 26 August 2009

Mars as Big as the Moon: It's Baaaaack
Discover / Bad Astronomy blog, 19 August 2008

Beware the Mars Hoax
NASA Science News, 7 July 2005

Mars Closest to Earth in 50,000 Years
About.com: Space/Astronomy, August 2003

Close Encounters with Mars
NASA Science News, 25 August 2003

Last updated: 08/05/15