Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Myth and the Reality

The myth: On Aug. 27, Mars will come so close to Earth it will look as big as the moon!

The reality: It's a good thing this message -- being spread by e-mail -- is false. If Mars got close enough to rival the moon in size, according to NASA, it would alter Earth's orbit and bring on terrible tides. The closest Mars will come to us this year is in December, when it will be about 55 million miles away. It won't look much different than usual to the unaided eye.

The background: The Snopes website, which tracks urban myths on the Internet, traces this one back to August 2003, when Mars came far closer than usual -- about 35 million miles. Even then, it didn't look all that much different to casual observers. But the erroneous message began to spread, probably because of a misunderstanding about needing a telescope to see the planet close up. The e-mails popped up again this summer. mars.asp

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