Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mars and Earth - - At The Closest Point in the History

Beware! Its a Cyber World - - Summary:

Email claims that Earth and Mars will have the closest approach in recorded history in August and will be a spectacular sight for stargazers.

In fact, the event described did occur back in 2003, but this message is now hopelessly outdated. No such close approach will occur in July or August 2010.

The subjected mail looks like as under:


Subject: Mars - August 27th must see

Get those telescopes out!

Something to look forward to this summer.


The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in 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 before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth 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 the naked eye.

Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

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 12:30a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being 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 with your children and grandchildren.



Beware! Its a Cyber World - - Explanation:

An email that has circulated during July and August for several years is again hitting inboxes in 2010. The message informs recipients that the planet Mars will be passing very close to Earth in August. While this information was valid back in 2003, it is totally inaccurate for 2010. One of the 2010 incarnations of the hoax consists of a PowerPoint slide presentation that provides basically the same information as contained in the above email along with several more photographs of Mars

The year is not specifically mentioned in the message and a great many recipients therefore assume that the message refers to August, 2010. Virtually identical (and equally misleading) messages were circulating back in July and August 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The events outlined in the message were more or less true back in 2003 although they were a little hyped even then. According to NASA, on August 27, 2003, Earth and Mars were the closest they have been for around 60,000 years. Mars was indeed a spectacular site in the night sky during several months of 2003.

However, this fact is not quite as earth shattering as you might think. A 2003 NASA article on the subject explains that:
Much has been made of the fact that the August 27th encounter with Mars is the closest in some 60,000 years. Neanderthals were the last to observe Mars so favorably placed. This is true. It's also a bit of hype. Mars and Earth have been almost this close many times in recent history.
And, during 2010, the view of Mars will be far less than "spectacular". In an article about the hoax, Science website EarthSky notes:
In both July and August of 2010, Mars is low in the west after sunset. Not only is it not as large as a full moon, it’s barely noticeable as a tiny dot of light in the sunset glare. In July 2010, Mars is one of several planets – including Saturn, Venus and Mercury – in that part of the sky.

Around August 27 – the day of the hoax – Mars will be near the planet Venus on our sky’s dome. Venus will guide your eye to Mars.

Why is Mars so faint in the summer of 2010? If you did not know where to look for it, you’d never notice it. It’s faint because it’s far away from us now.
In fact, the closest approach of Mars to the Earth for 2010 has already occurred back in January 2010. Even then, at 99 million kilometers Mars was still a lot further away than it was in 2003 when it was only 56 million kilometers from Earth. In reference to this January 2010 encounter, astronomy website SEDS noted:
Mars will come into Opposition on January 29, 2010 in the constellation Cancer. Two days before, on January 27, 2010, the planet will have come to its closest approach to Earth during this apparation: 99.33 million km (0.66399 AU). This is not very close, as Mars will be quite close to its aphelion at the time of this opposition; the aphelion is passed on March 31, 2010. This opposition will occur during Northern Spring and Southern Autumn on Mars, so primarily observable will be the Northern hemisphere of Mars.
Thus, like the earlier incarnations of this hoax, the claims in the 2010 version are nonsense.

This message seems set to keep resurfacing every year and duping a whole new set of recipients into gazing rather fruitlessly at the night sky. But don't despair! Close encounters with Mars are not such uncommon events. The claim that "NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN!" is misleading. It is true that the next time Mars will be as close to Earth as it was in 2003 will be on August 28, 2287. In the mean time however, there will be plenty of other close approaches, so our children and our children's children are not likely to miss out altogether.

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