The Mars visibility hoax is simple. Every year on Facebook, some chain letter gets passed around saying that if you look into the night sky on such-and-such a date in August, Mars will be as big as the moon to the naked eye, causing a creepy dual-moon Tatooine situation.
Wouldn’t it be cool if it weren’t complete bullsh**?
Because that’s what it is. Despite Snopes, Hoax Slayer and a ton of other major publications debunking this myth every single year, the Mars visibility hoax is thriving on Facebook right as we speak, where it is more powerful than ever.
The alert usually looks something like this:
“WARNING: August 27 at 00:30 Lift up your eyes and look up at the night sky. On this night, the planet Mars will pass just 34.65 million miles from the earth. To the naked eye it looks like two of the moon above the ground!… Share the news with your friends, because no one living on this earth has ever seen!”
And only that last sentence is accurate, according to Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait, who put together the most comprehensive takedown of this hoax we’ve seen so far.
It all started back on Aug. 27, 2003, when we really did have a historic year for Mars observers. Through a telescope, you could see the red planet as though you were looking at the moon with your naked eye. I’ll say that again… Mars was indeed as big as the moon, but only if you looked at it through a telescope.
But claims that Mars and the moon would both be the same size to the naked eye circulated through chain emails at first, and picked up this persuasive image around 2009:
Which is an awesome photo, but it’s all Photoshop. It came from a Russian website called Dream Worlds, where a ton of other surreal manipulated photos can be found.
We can’t keep track of all the shares going around right now, but we know that at least one Mars visibility myth post has about 557,000 shares right now, and it’s starting to go viral on Twitter, as well. If you point your eyes to the sky this week before you read this article, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.