Well, it's that time of year again, apparently. That old "Mars is going to appear just as big as the Moon" hoax/joke has come out from whatever dark corner of the internet it's been hibernating in since last time.
The first time I saw this was in an email sent to me by one of my aunts, back in 2003. My family shares my view that astronomy is awesome, so it's understandable that they'd be excited by such a 'rare occurrence' and want to be sure I knew about it. I took the time to explain that, while Mars would be making its closest approach to Earth in roughly 60,000 years on August 27th of that year, it was impossible for the planet to look the same size as the Moon to the naked eye.
According to astronomer Phil Plait, of the Bad Astronomy blog, it started as an innocent mistake, where someone apparently skipped over the part where you needed a telescope to magnify Mars by 75 times to make it look that big.
I'm not sure how many people actually believe this, as opposed to just sharing a good joke with their friends, but as of today, this particular post on Facebook has had over 500,000 shares! Hopefully everyone's just passing on the joke, and hopefully enough people have already heard about this that noone actually believes it.
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There have been plenty of other astronomy hoaxes over the years.
There's a rather strange one that apparently started in 2008, claiming that the Sun would rise for a full 36 hours on October 17th. Another Mars-themed one called for people to turn off their electronics one night because cosmic rays from Mars would be 'entering Earth'. Then there's the doomsday hoaxes that crop up, pretty much every time we detect a nearby object (planet, comet, asteroid), specifically mentioning 'Nibiru' (or alternatively Planet X, Nemesis, etc). The whole 2012 Mayan Apocalypse scare made heavy use of this rogue object.
There's definitely plenty to get excited about in astronomy, and there's certainly dangers that we need to watch out for, but whenever you hear news about stuff like this, just be sure to check into it first.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook)
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