The Mars Hoax Won't Go Away

Howard L. Cohen

Emeritus Assoc. Professor
Dept. of Astronomy, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611

August 10, 2006 (Updated Aug. 26, 2006)

Bad things just don't want to go away. A hoax about Mars has been circulating on the Internet for several year, especially in July and August. This deceptive material is back again including a very slick PowerPoint presentation that tries to make the hoax even more believable

Since 2003 bogus information has been circulating on the Internet including e-mail about a close approach of Mars on August 27.

Some, but not all, of this information was correct for the close approach of Mars in 2003. However, this material is now nearly all wrong as applied to future years.

In 2005, this deceptive information about the close approach on August 27 again appeared although the close approach of Mars to Earth that year occurred in November.

In the summer of 2006 this fraudulent material again resurfaced although Mars has no close approach to Earth in August or any other month of 2006!

I previously wrote about this hoax as it pertained to the 2005 close approach of Mars to Earth. Read about it on the Alachua Astronomy Club's page title, "Mars Hoax."

This hoax is now back again in 2006 with the same false and misleading information.

However, the hoax is even more deceptive and ridiculous because Mars does not even have any close approach to Earth during the entire year! Unfortunately the Mars hoax has been given more credibility in a polished, slick and crafty PowerPoint presentation simply titled, "Mars."

Bogus PowerPoint The Mars Hoax
presented in this
PowerPoint presentation,
includes the myths below

Download PowerPoint Presentation — Remember presentation is a hoax ]

Myth "Mars will appear in spectacular fashion in 2006."

Fact During 2006 Mars diminishes to an inconspicuous yellowish "star" overshadowed by many brighter looking stars on the sky.

Myth "This month and next, Earth will catch up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history."

Fact During 2006 Earth gradually pulls away from Mars. By August 2006 Mars is roughly on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, close to its farthest point from us rather than near us! (Closest approach in recorded history occurred August 2003 not August 2006.)

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

Fact But, Mars has no close approach in 2006. In fact, the Martian distance from Earth during August 2006 is about 150 million miles, a whopping 4.4 times farther than its close approach in 2003!

Myth "It will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9."

Fact The red planet in August 2006 will appear about 80 times dimmer compared with 2003 having diminished in brightness to magnitude +1.8. Approximately three dozen stars appear brighter than this.

Myth "So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month."

Fact Mars will remain comparatively faint all during August 2006 and the rest of the year. Only toward the end of 2006 will Mars have brightened slightly, but only by 0.3 magnitudes or 30 percent.

Myth "Mars will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification."

Mars will not appear 25 arc sec across

Fact In August 2006 the Martian disk is only 3.6 arc seconds, or about eleven times smaller than in 2003! Indeed, many observers may have difficulty discerning or resolving its disk even with a telescope.

Moreover, the statement, "At a modest 75-power magnification," makes no sense and is probably a corrupted part of a sentence about the 2003 apparition of Mars.

See next section for further elaboration.

Myth "To the naked eye Mars will look as large as the full moon!"

To naked eye Mars will not appear as large as Moon

Click here for an actual comparison
of how large Mars will appear
on 2006 August 27!

Moon vs. Mars

Fact Nonsense. Without a telescope Mars or any other planet never looks as large as the full moon does to the naked eye. In fact, the human eye cannot readily resolve the disk of any planet on the sky without a telescope.

In addition, the statement "At a modest 75-power magnification," refers to the 2003 close approach and probably should have read something like, "Using a telescope at a modest 75-power magnification, observers can see Mars appear as large as the Moon does with the unaided eye."

So, one needed to magnify Mars with a telescope 75 times in 2003 to make this planet appear as large as the Moon looks without a telescope.

However, in 2006, the disk of Mars is so small one would have to use a telescopic magnification of about 500 power (not 75 power) to make Mars appear as large as the Moon does to the unaided eye! This power is beyond the useful magnification of small telescopes. Even large telescopes are rarely useful at this high magnification.

Myth "And by the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m."


Fact By the beginning of August it will rise in the east about 8:30 a.m. and reach its highest point in the sky at about 3:30 p.m.

Also the words, "reach its azimuth," makes no sense—azimuth is an angular distance around the horizon. The sentence should say "reaches its highest point in the sky."

Finally, notice that Mars in August 2006 rises in the morning (not in the evening) and reaches its highest point in the sky during the afternoon (not in the hours before dawn)!

Myth "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."


Fact By the end of August 2006 the red planet rises near sunrise and reaches its highest point in the sky in mid-afternoon not near midnight. In fact, Mars will set near the time of sunset for much of the USA and so will not even be visible at night!

Finally, Mars will make its next close approach to Earth not in 2006 but in December 2007 when its nearest distance will be 55 million miles with an apparent diameter of 16 arc seconds. This close approach is, however, not nearly as favorable as either the 2003 or 2005 close approaches.

Through much of 2006, Mars unfortunately appears only as a tiny, dim point of light
among dozens of other brighter or more interesting celestial wonders.

« For more details on this hoax, read the 2005 article Mars Hoax »

See also