Read this about Mars, pass it on, stop the hoax

Image: Mars via NASA

I get questions about Mars every summer, and they are always related to this same silly chain email. So this year, I felt that being proactive by placing a story on WUWT might help a bit.  I had to chuckle though, because the “It spreads, it mutates, it refuses to die.” phrase reminds me of the hockey stick “warmest in 1000 years” meme. – Anthony

From Science @ NASA: The Mutating Mars Hoax

It spreads, it mutates, it refuses to die.

For the seventh year in a row, the Mars Hoax is infecting email boxes around the world. Passed from one reader to another, the message states that on August 27th Mars will approach Earth and swell to the size of a full Moon. “NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN,” the email declares–always in caps.

News flash: It’s not true.

Here are the facts. On August 27, 2010, Mars will be 314 million km from Earth, about as far away as it can get. Mars will shine in the western sky after sunset like a tiny red star of ordinary brightness. If you didn’t know it was there, you probably wouldn’t notice.

The Mutating Mars Hoax (control panel, 550px)

The only way to see Mars as large as the full Moon is to board a spaceship.

The origins of the Hoax can be traced back to 2003 when Mars really did swell to unusual proportions. On August 27th of that year, Mars came within 56 million km of Earth—the nearest it has been in 60,000 years. People marveled at the orange brilliance of Mars in the night sky and crowded around telescopes for clear views of the planet’s towering volcanoes, ruddy plains and glistening polar ice caps. At the height of the display, Mars was about 75 times smaller than the full Moon.

That’s when “the virus” was born.

Someone, somewhere, reasoned as follows: If Mars is 75 times smaller than the Moon, then magnifying it 75 times should make it equal to the Moon. Early versions of the Hoax encouraged readers to get out their telescopes and insert a 75x eyepiece: “At a modest 75 times magnification,” the message stated, “Mars will look as big as the full Moon to the naked eye.”

The Mutating Mars Hoax (sky map, 200px)

Click on the image to view a sky map showing how to find Mars on Aug. 27, 2010.

Soon, the Hoax was vectoring around the internet, making copies of itself and mutating. Advanced versions of the virus, sleeker and less wordy than its ancestors, omitted the magnification and simply stated, “Mars will look as big as the full Moon to the naked eye!” Before long, the year was omitted, too. August 27, 2003, became August 27, and the Hoax became immortal. Indeed, years of stories contradicting the Hoax have failed to stamp it out. This is the fourth vaccination by Science@NASA alone.

Tolerant readers point out that the Mars Hoax is not really a hoax, because it is not an intentional trick. The original composer probably believed everything he or she wrote in the message. If so, even the name of the Mars Hoax is wrong!

Here’s what you should do on August 27th. Go outside at sunset and face west. The bright light you see shining through the twilight is lovely Venus. Grab a pair of binoculars and scan the sky around Venus. A few degrees to the right, you’ll come across a little orange star-like object. That is Mars.

Now go back inside and delete that email.

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wes george
August 25, 2010 4:04 am

Thanks for that, Anthony 😉
I’m sure the spirit of the late Jack Horkheimer is smiling down upon this post of yours from some where up there among the stars. Please tell us about the night sky more often!

August 25, 2010 4:11 am

Love the NRDC ad at the bottom … when your opponents are funding you, you must be doing something right …

August 25, 2010 4:25 am

People will believe any damn thing if it’s said forcefully and with sincerity. “Change we can believe in” for example.

August 25, 2010 4:28 am

I’ve gotten that e-mail from otherwise intelligent relatives. I want to slap them up side the head and say “think about it! do you have any idea what that would look like???”

Joe Lalonde
August 25, 2010 5:01 am

Beam Me Up Scotty?

August 25, 2010 5:23 am

Three cheers for WUWT.
I’ve even heard this on drive-time radio… three years running! After a while, you kind of suspect that it can’t be “never again in your lifetime” every year.
Hmmm… “It’s unprecedented!”… every year. ;o)

August 25, 2010 5:46 am

And don’t send that greeting card to Craig Shergold. He’s 30 years old now.
I suppose we could try to get all the science blogs to carry this, but the people who need a dope slap the most don’t read science blogs. I’ll go try that new facebook button.

August 25, 2010 5:49 am

Aug 27th – In a couple of years we’ll be saying “Happy mock-Mars day” and looking at the new cards from Hallmark
Well it makes as much sense as the origin of lots of other “special” days

John Silver
August 25, 2010 5:54 am

I have no idea what this post is about, I have never heard of this before.
Since I have an Android 2.1 phone with Google Sky Map on it, I don’t have to care.
And I don’t.

August 25, 2010 5:57 am

Yes but are the Martian ice caps still melting away?

August 25, 2010 6:04 am

I saw the illogical conclusion to the thread played out on the Failbook site, where one of the people in a thread featured discussing the hoax as real panicked because she believed Mars was going to run into the Earth. Hilarious.

August 25, 2010 6:12 am

Anthony: Many thanks for helping to put this little bit of un-scientific nonsense to bed. However, one comment. Please don’t propagate the “times less” or “times smaller” substitution for what should be expressed as a fraction as in, “Mars was about 75 times smaller than the full Moon.”
Not important in the grand scheme of things, I guess, but it’s a favorite gripe of mine.

Steve Lewinski
August 25, 2010 6:17 am

For those who wish to silence the ignorant relations, here’s a Mars orbit app that cannot be misunderstood:

August 25, 2010 6:32 am

I have not heard this before. Looking at Jupitor or Saturn through a 4.5″ reflector is
much more interesting.

Alan the Brit
August 25, 2010 6:48 am

Yep, got that one too! Didn’t believe it for one minute either. As already said, some people will believe anything, like Man-made Global Warming, for instance! For starters, if this was such a real event, they would be clamouring about it for years on BBCs Sky at Night years in advance milking it for everything they can get out of it.

Bruce Foutch
August 25, 2010 6:58 am

But… What about the earthly horrors of Dihydrogen Monoxide?
“What are some of the dangers associated with DHMO?
Each year, Dihydrogen Monoxide is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment. Some of the known perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide are:
* Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.
* Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO causes severe tissue damage.
* Excessive ingestion produces a number of unpleasant though not typically life-threatening side-effects.
* DHMO is a major component of acid rain.
* Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns.
* Contributes to soil erosion.
* Leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals.
* Contamination of electrical systems often causes short-circuits.
* Exposure decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
* Found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.
* Given to vicious dogs involved in recent deadly attacks.
* Often associated with killer cyclones in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere, and in hurricanes including deadly storms in Florida, New Orleans and other areas of the southeastern U.S.
* Thermal variations in DHMO are a suspected contributor to the El Nino weather effect.”

August 25, 2010 7:38 am

Never got that email either. Fortunately I know that people suck, so I don’t get a lot of stupid email. 😉
Just used the Facebook share link. Worked perfectly.

August 25, 2010 7:40 am

As already said, some people will believe anything, like Man-made Global Warming, for instance!

I could believe it, but it’s going to take evidence, not secret science and “trust me”.

John F. Hultquist
August 25, 2010 7:47 am

You made a good call but a month late. This one came to us about a month ago and I found a rebuttal and had my wife send it back to her correspondent. We get some sort of hoax every month. One was about our Pres. and a correctional facility and another was of a moose trained to be harnessed and pull logs. On another WUWT thread yesterday some were instructing others to learn to use Google. There’s a useful idea. Another is ‘learn to be skeptical’.

August 25, 2010 7:49 am

H.R. says: “I’ve even heard this on drive-time radio… three years running…”
You left out the ‘L’ in drivel.

August 25, 2010 7:51 am

Drat. This probably means the Gen-u-wine Martian 75x Naked Eye Enhancer I scored on eBay was a waste of $2.99, huh?
There’s been so much dust in the air over here lately, you can look at the *sun* without eye protection. On the plus side, it looks just as orange as Mars…

Jeff in Calgary
August 25, 2010 7:51 am

This is funny because yesterday I was telling my friend that I had seen Jupiter and he kept trying to correct me and say it was Mars. After a few times, I realised what was going on. Someone who had got that e-mail had told him about Mars being close.

August 25, 2010 7:51 am

Bruce Foutch says:
August 25, 2010 at 6:58 am
But… What about the earthly horrors of Dihydrogen Monoxide?

Cool! Heh! Be careful with DHMO… 🙂

Steve Keohane
August 25, 2010 7:53 am

Someone had already tried to pass this hoax by me, what nonsense! We are developing a world where everyone depends on authority, they won’t think for themselves.

Leon Brozyna
August 25, 2010 7:56 am

People that fall for such nonsense (and then pass it on) will not be deterred by mundane considerations such as facts and reality. Look at climate change.

August 25, 2010 7:59 am

We would be on Mars already if NASA had been funded properly the past ~40 years. Instead of the internet feeding us crap like this, it could be live-streaming from laboratory cameras on our outpost there. Along with Hubble we’d be seeing daily images from the humans working there, even telescope images of the blue dot in the sky of Mars.
I fear humanity has decided to fight itself again, instead of the real challenge before them.

August 25, 2010 8:11 am

A good friend told me about this in all seriousness. When he told me, my eyebrow of skepticism raised about 4 inches. He claimed it was true, and me and my other friends sat there silent for a few seconds. Then I said silence is what we do when we know you are full of it, but have no information to contradict what you say. Thanks for the info!

August 25, 2010 8:26 am

My son came rushing up to me to tell me the news about the “close approach” of Mars. I gently told him where Mars actually was in the night sky. We googled “Mars big as full moon” together, and saw the hoax debunked. My son nodded, but then flashed a grin and said, “I can’t help feel disappointed. I was really looking forward to it!”
I wish other hoaxes were so easy to debunk……Dr. Hansen.

CRS, Dr.P.H.
August 25, 2010 8:44 am

Heh! The Angry Red Planet continues to torment humanity with its secrets!!
Interesting history about the place, I was fascinated by Lowell’s handwritten notes at his observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The origin of the “Martian canals” is always fun to review, this site has a ton of interesting facts:

Chris H
August 25, 2010 8:57 am

If you think dihydrogen monoxide is bad, oxygen dihydride is even worse. It’s a constitutent of cheap beer and you know what that does to your body!

August 25, 2010 8:58 am

Schadow says:
August 25, 2010 at 6:12 am

Anthony: Many thanks for helping to put this little bit of un-scientific nonsense to bed. However, one comment. Please don’t propagate the “times less” or “times smaller” substitution for what should be expressed as a fraction as in, “Mars was about 75 times smaller than the full Moon.”

I don’t think that was Anthony – looks like that came from NASA. Sigh.
Gee, where were you when I needed you? See

August 25, 2010 9:03 am

[snip – this poster has changed his screen name and email ]

August 25, 2010 10:07 am

I keep getting this email over and over. I send back an explanation that it’s a hoax, that it’s wrong and I should know because I >have< a telescope. ….. and then in a few weeks I get the same email from the same people.
….. you can't fix stupid……

Bill in Vigo
August 25, 2010 10:20 am

I have already deleted this twice this summer. Funny thing is that one of the senders is the same one every year. I just laugh and go on. Some folks just don’t think/remember about yesterday much less last year/s.
Bill Derryberry

George E. Smith
August 25, 2010 10:45 am

Can’t for the life of me see what you are complaining about Anthony; mebbe you need to chill out; that seems like a true statement to me. So where’s the beef ?
This one belongs in there with the “Greenhouse effect is impossible.”

Danny V
August 25, 2010 10:54 am

The moon and Jupiter will be in conjunction night of Aug 26/27. As well, Jupiter will have 2 shadow transits from its moons on the surface. Great night for observing.

Gary Pearse
August 25, 2010 11:47 am

The source of this may be a misconstrual of an actual stunning display of close planets (mars, venus and saturn) over several days – in the low western sky after the sun set. I saw it on the 19th, when mars and venus virtually combined making a rather large bright spectacle.
“Early August sees a number of excellent planetary line-ups, four of the five classical planets are close together for most of the month. Evening August 1; Venus, Mars and Saturn form a nice triangle. August 8; Venus close to Saturn. August 12; thin cresent Moon near Mercury. August 13; thin crescent Moon close to Venus, Mars and Saturn, with Mercury below. August 19; Venus and Mars close together. August 27; Moon near Jupiter. August 31 Venus close to Spica.”

August 25, 2010 11:55 am

Chris H says “If you think dihydrogen monoxide is bad, oxygen dihydride is even worse. ”
These are the usual panic stories about these useful chemicals:
Some investigators suggest that mixtures of the correct proportions of dihydrogen monoxide and pure ethanol might be a factor in some people’s sudden increase in confidence in their singing abilities

August 25, 2010 12:31 pm

As hoaxes go, this one is benign. No one is asking for changes to the economy regarding Mars and the phony claims about it.
No one is demanding that a large pile of money be turned over the world will end because of Mars.
No one is balming average people for causing Mars to change in size, and telling them that they are going to kill the Earth because of what they did to Mars.
This is just a stupid joke, unlike some hoaxes I can think of.

August 25, 2010 1:05 pm

GERRY says “you cant fix stupid”, actually you can , unfortuantly its illegal and will get you sent to prison for life

August 25, 2010 1:06 pm

I remember watching the Mars rise in August 2003 and it was indeed most impressive and lovely -came up over a cloud bank. It was one of the few times that the (then) local star-gazing spot was full.
I’ll probably get the e-mail tomorrow, from a friend who doesn’t believe in Snopes or Google.

August 25, 2010 1:18 pm

What people seem to be missing here is that this is not a hoax. It’s not even an error. It’s an accurate report of a factual astronomical phenomenon. Which nevertheless gets distorted into nonsense.
What does the email say? That on August 27th (in the year it was written) Mars would make its closest approach to Earth for 600,000 years, so it would look larger that day than people would ever again see in their lifetime. Observed through a 75x telescope it would look as big as the Moon does to the naked eye. This was quite true.
It is salutory to realise how readily even the plain truth can be mangled out of all recognition. A lie doesn’t even have to go around the world while the truth is getting its boots on; it can wait for the truth to pass by, then hitch a ride!

August 25, 2010 2:03 pm

The new initiative appears to be more of the same old, same old. A superior outcome will be that Dr Pielke Sr persuades the Met Office to abandon surface temperatures as a metric in favor of ocean heat content.

August 25, 2010 2:09 pm

I get hit with the same Mars story every year, and I am tired of it. I tell teary-eyed people that it will be a long time before the repeat of late fall 2003 Mars closest close approach will be repeated, and some of us won’t live to see it. And no, it will not be as big as the full Moon, and it will take a big scope and great seeing to get the juicy details at the eyepiece.
Now that Mars closest close approach is mentioned, I did see it in a 25″ Dob, the S. Polar Ice Cap was a grand sight, and it reminds me of what Earth would look like if we saw it from Mars during an Antarctic Sea Ice maximum.
Mars North Polar Ice Cap is puny by comparison.
Isn’t that interesting?

August 25, 2010 2:59 pm

I’ve had this as well – from supposedly intelligent people too. I’ve resorted to just suggesting they stay up all night to watch the spectacle if it’s going to be so amazing and reminding them to watch out for Drop Bears if they’re out alone…. 😉

August 25, 2010 3:10 pm

Chris H says:
August 25, 2010 at 8:57 am
If you think dihydrogen monoxide is bad, oxygen dihydride is even worse.

In conjuction with electricity, oxygen dihydride has proven to be instantly fatal. You should avoid it at all costs. Electricity is otherwise a safe and useful substance (though you should always keep a lightbulb in the socket even if it isn’t working, otherwise electricity may drain from from the empty socket, and cause unsightly and costly discoloration to your carpets)

August 25, 2010 6:05 pm

Can you beleive one of our Australian TV Stations actually ran with this story thinking it was real. Unbeleivable.

Douglas Dc
August 25, 2010 7:09 pm

Now I get to email this link to one idiot in my office that sent me that thing.
He thinks that it’s real.BTW he’s a warmist….

Jeff Norman
August 25, 2010 10:10 pm

“the message states that on August 27th Mars will approach Earth and swell to the size of a full Moon. ”
Technically, this is correct. At no point does it say it will look to be the same size as a full Moon looks from the earth, from the Earth, now does it? 😉
Actually it’s wrong because the size of Mars doesn’t change much in human terms. And anyway Mars is bigger than the Moon all the time.

August 26, 2010 12:17 am

Thanks for doingbtgis Anthony. This is one variant that I hear about every year. The other is that it’s the closet in over a century, etc.

August 26, 2010 3:45 am

I can confirm it’s a hoax…

Smoking Frog
August 27, 2010 4:41 am

You’d think anyone would be able to tell the difference between goddamn fool websites and serious websites.
You’d think no one would believe an email just because he received it.
You’d think anyone would have enough general knowledge to figure that if Mars had appeared as big as the full moon at any time in recorded history, he’d probably have heard of the phenomenon.
But not everyone has these things. I know, because I’ve met people who believe various foolishness, people who pass on preposterous emails, and so forth. Still, it’s remarkable. We assume that everyone at least kinda sorta has some semblance of general knowledge and common sense. It’s not true!

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