Original version of a widely forwarded email claiming that August 27 will bring the closest encounter between Mars and Earth in recorded history. Unfortunately, this 'once in a lifetime event' already came and went in 2003.
Description: Email rumor
Circulating since: July 2003 (this version)
Status: Outdated / False
Email contributed by Glenn P., July 25, 2003:
CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH MARS
Never again in our lifetime will the Red Planet look so spectacular! This month and next Earth is catching up with Mars, an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the last 5,000 years but it may be as long as 60,000 years. The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to he naked eye.
Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August, Mars will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m. But by the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That's pretty convenient when it comes to seeing something that no human has seen in recorded history.
So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this!
No one alive today will ever see this again.
Analysis: This is roughly accurate — or was in 2003, at any rate, when the above message first began circulating online.
It was most definitely not accurate when the identical text resurfaced in 2005, nor when it cropped up for another go-around in 2006, nor again in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The phenomenon variously characterized as "Mars Spectacular," "Close Encounter with Mars," "Mars Close to Earth," and "Two Moons" in different versions of the forwarded email actually came and went in 2003.
On August 27 of that year the orbital paths of Earth and Mars brought the two planets to within 34.65 million miles of one another — closer indeed than at any other time in the past 50,000 years. Though Mars never actually appeared "as large as the full moon to the naked eye" (as claimed in the email), the red planet did vividly dominate the night sky for a brief time, making 2003's close encounter a once-in-a-lifetime event indeed for astronomers, space enthusiasts, and ordinary observers alike.
Sources and further reading:
Mars Closest to Earth in 50,000 Years
About.com: Space/Astronomy, August 2003
Rumors of Giant Planet a Hoax, Says Astronomer
CBC News, 17 July 2006
Mars Hoax Emails Flood Planetarium Website
Times of India, 20 August 2008
Last updated: 04/07/12