The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington

The Planetarium at UT Arlington

The Planetarium at UT Arlington

The Mars Hoax

The Annual Return of the Mars Hoax

August is a great time to go star-gazing here in Texas. The nights are generally clear and warm, and there are many bright objects visible in the sky. One of those bright objects is Mars, but because Mars is not always visible in the sky, it leads people to believe certain myths and hoaxes about it. One hoax that seems to appear every August, states that Mars will be as large as the Full Moon in the sky. Perhaps you've seen the email. For those of you that haven't, here is a little background information on the email.

Every August, an email starts to circulate, telling readers of a once in a lifetime event; Mars will appear as large as the Moon in the night sky. According to the email, the last time this happened, was 5,000 years ago, and it won't happen again for another 60,000 years. It urges people to get outside and look at Mars, as no one alive today will see this again.

We at the Planetarium, want to encourage people to look at the sky as well, however, do not expect to see Mars as large as the Full Moon. In fact, it will appear as a reddish star regardless of its distance.

What started this hoax?

In August of 2003, Mars was at opposition with Earth. Opposition is an Astronomical term meaning closest. So Mars and Earth were as close together as they can ever be in their orbits, in fact, they were closer than they had been in 60,000 years! This caused people to spread wild rumors about how Mars was so close to Earth, it would be as large as the Full Moon. In reality, Mars did not appear as large as the Full Moon, but instead, appeared as a red star that was brighter than it had been the year before. Today Mars and Earth have continued their orbits around the sun, and the distance between them is steadily growing. Mars will not be in opposition with Earth again until 2287.

Mars and Earth on August 27

Mars and Earth in their respective orbits on August 27, 2009