The Mars/Moon Hoax Rears its Ugly Head
Well, the hysterical claims are starting up yet again. Yes, it’s the annual Mars/Moon madness again. Only this time, the folks claiming that the Moon and Mars will be the SAME SIZE OMG!!! NEVER AGAIN IN THIS CENTURY!!!! are claiming that on August 27th, 2014, we’ll be treated to a view of the Moon AND Mars both the same size in the sky. The stories are accompanied with an image that implies they’ll be *thisclose* in the sky. The whole idea is so screwed up it’s not even close to reality. But, before I get to work dismantling the latest flight of fancy about this subject, the good news is that there is something neat to see in the sky that night (and indeed, for the next couple of weeks). I’ll talk about that in a minute (below the jump).
Here’s a star chart that I made using Stellarium for the period of time just a few minutes after sunset on the 27th. This shows the sky with indicators for where the Moon and Mars will be. They are roughly 45 degrees apart — nowhere near each other, as it turns out. So, that immediately puts the lie to the images I’ve seen showing two Full Moons next to each other (apparently one of them is supposed to be Mars). The insets show about how these objects will really look. The Moon will be a very young crescent (NOT FULL, as is shown in some of the graphics I’ve seen). Mars and Saturn will appear as dot-shaped objects in the twilight. As it get darker, they’ll look brighter (since we won’t be contending with the twilight glow), but by that time, the Moon will have set. The chart doesn’t lie. You can go to Stellarium, download the free program, run it and see for yourself. It’s easy to do. Where did this huge misunderstanding come from? Apparently someone a few years ago misread (or didn’t understand) an article written about an appearance of Mars in the sky in 2003. The article said that if you looked at Mars through a telescope at that time, the image would be magnified 75x (75 times), and that magnification would make Mars look (through the eyepiece) as big as the Full Moon does to the naked eye. So, the article was making a comparison between two objects, one far away viewed in a telescope and the other closeup viewed with the naked eye (that is, without magnification). The writer was attempting to show that the Moon looks big to us (it’s close, so it should), and that Mars is so far away (even at its closest) that we need magnification to make it look as the Full Moon does to our naked eyes. It was a size-distance comparison. During that time (in 2003), Mars was at a point in its orbit where it was closer to Earth than anytime in 60,000 years. So, as most urban legends go, a whole new meme was born. It’s usually expressed with lousy pictures (doctored in Photoshop), lots of exclamatory material, and a complete conflation of misunderstanding about the difference between a magnified view of something and a naked eye view. Continue Reading