I almost fell for a Facebook hoax last week when I saw this post:
In the post were two photos showing Mars to be similar in size to the moon — although anyone with an eye for detail can tell the photo is a fake: The red object in the photo is just a crimson version of the moon superimposed next to the natural moon, and not some giant version of Mars.
Along with the photos is a caption stating that on August 27, 2015 at exactly 12:30 a.m., the moon and Mars will be side by side illuminating the night sky.
Despite the fact that nothing could be farther from the truth, the man responsible for the post, Joseph Ayoub, says that he’s received a lot of feedback since the post went up a week ago. It’s racked up more than half a million shares, almost 19,000 comments and almost 140,000 likes.
But as cool as the image looked, and how much I’d love to stand outside and watch a moon-sized planet appear above my head, I won’t be fooled.
That’s because, like most things that are just too good to be true, this is a classic social media hoax. So classic, in fact, that it’s been around in one form or another since 2003.
When the hoax began 12 years ago, it was sparked by a real, rare event: Mars came closer to Earth than ever before in recorded history at a distance of just 35 million miles. This is what it looked like:
Some took the news of the red planet’s close approach way too far and said that the red planet would appear as large as the moon, but that’s not the case at all, NASA said in a 2005 post, noting:
“If Mars did come close enough to rival the moon, its gravity would alter Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides.”
No such tides swept the planet in 2003, and none will do so at the end of this month like the Facebook post implies. Even more insulting perhaps is the fact that Mars won’t even be particularly near the Earth at the end of this month — the time and date provided in the post are a mere perpetuation from the 2003 time and date and don’t coincide with any significant celestial event whatsoever.
We won’t see another close approach of Mars like the one in 2003 again until the year 2287.
Luckily, it seems that the popularity of this post is sparking some scientific discussions on Facebook: People have posted to the picture itself or in direct messages, trying to explain why he’s wrong, Ayoub told Business Insider.
The bottom line is that the Mars hoax is not a real thing, nor has it ever been. Spend 12:30 a.m. on August 27 doing something other than expectantly staring into the sky (though if you’re on the hunt for some visible planets, you may still be in luck).
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