- The Chicago Astronomer -
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I’m getting reports that that six-year-old undated notice of Mars coming incredibly close in August is being recirculated once again. That motivated me to research the matter more deeply. The result is a revised version of my diagram illustrating the oppositions of Mars. Here it is! ;D
Some folks are using the term hoax. I’d call the original PowerPoint presentation a comedy of errors.
If I were a police profiler, here is what I would hypothesize. I see a teenager who had recently gotten into both astronomy and producing PowerPoint presentations. When he read reports of Mars making a close approach in 2003, he saw an opportunity to impress and excite his friends by announcing the astronomical event with a PowerPoint presentation. He cut and pasted some text which included dates but not the year, which seemed unnecessary since it was published that year. For dramatic effect, he mentioned the need for magnification on one slide and then displayed a magnified image of Mars next to a Full Moon on the next slide. Although it was not his intent, some sloppy readers took no notice of the mention of the need for magnification. Meanwhile, the presenter overlooked the power of the internet grapevine to keep information circulating even after it had become outdated. His leaving out the year was an error, but it’s understandable if he cut and pasted from sources that also left out the year.
While my attempt to profile is pure speculation, I nevertheless feel the term hoax is inappropriate. Hoax implies intentional deceit. I can understand how some of us in the astronomical community get annoyed by this Mars announcement every year and want to “blame” somebody. Let’s not blame the perpetrator for intentional mischievousness, but instead for unbridled enthusiasm which got him trapped into overlooking possible consequences.
This Mars misunderstanding is not a matter of great importance. Distortions of political or larger scientific questions can be more harmful. Nevertheless, the lesson to be learned is that the originators, redistributors and consumers of information on the internet need to always be careful, keep a skeptical eye open and apply astute judgment.
I have yet to receive a bogus Mars email, but it's still early.
I do dig your updated graphic.
It’s happening again! Ignore those highly misleading mass e-mailings about Mars that re-circulate every August. This month Mars is relatively far from the Earth. The e-mails actually refer to an event that occurred on 2003 AUG 27. On that date Mars was its closest to Earth in more than 60,000 years, but not much closer than it gets every 15 or 17 years. Mars did not appear as big as a Full Moon. E-mails that say so have been improperly edited. The original article (which failed to mention the year) correctly stated that a telescope would be required to make Mars appear as large as a Full Moon by naked eye.
Because Mars’ orbit is rather eccentric, its distance from the Sun can vary significantly during its 1.881-year orbital period. When closest to the Sun, Mars is said to be at perihelion. The considerably less eccentric orbit of the Earth is nearer to the Sun. The Earth circles the Sun annually and laps Mars in an average of 2.135 years. This last happened on 2010 JAN 29, and the next example will be on 2012 MAR 03. These occurrences are referred to as Mars’ oppositions from the Sun, since we then look in the opposite direction from the Sun to see Mars. Mars comes particularly close to the Earth every 15 or 17 years during perihelic oppositions. The next really close separation will be on 2018 JUL 31.
Check out my astronomical webpage for graphics I created related to Mars and other planets: www.curtrenz.com/astronomical . One illustrates how close Mars gets to Earth at each opposition from 2003 to 2018. Then delete any e-mails you’ve gotten about Mars appearing as big as a Full Moon this month. Do not forward them, or your own credibility becomes diminished. The lesson is to keep a skeptical eye open when reading any mass e-mailings, even those from trusted friends.
Post by Paulie pchris00 on Aug 20, 2010 22:56:39 GMT -6
Wow, Curt, I love the graphic. I've heard that Mars's orbit was highly eccentric, but I had no idea it gets so close to Earth! Now I'm doubting my own skills, because what I have perceived to be Mars is quite small, even at high magnification. I'm hoping maybe this weekend I can see Mars as big as a full Moon, and I'll try to post pictures. ;D
"Just a boy, just an ordinary boy, but he was looking to the sky." -Vanessa Carlton