‘Mars Hoax Day’ Fools People Into Thinking Red Planet Is Supersized

Mars Hoax Day is once again here, so if you get an email telling you to look for a giant red planet in the night sky, just ignore it.

For nearly a decade, Mars Hoax Day has turned up each August 27, spreading by email and claiming that Mars will appear in the sky just as large as the full moon.

Wikipedia breaks it down like this: Mars Hoax Day originated in an e-mail in 2003 that claimed on August 27, Mars would be so close to earth that it would appear in the night sky as large as the full moon. After taking a year off, the hoax returned every year between 2005 and this year, fooling people into scanning the night sky for Mars.

The original Mars Hoax Day may not have been intentional. An email message communicated that Mars and Earth in 2003 were the closest they had been in close to 60,000 years. This was misinterpreted to claim that Mars would appear supersized and, as exaggerations often do, spread like wildfire by way of email forwards.

The text of the Mars Hoax Day email has remained largely the same since its introduction in 2003. Using pseudo-scientific language, it appears convincing enough to the untrained eye:

“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 (55,763,108 km) 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 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.”

But even NASA spoke up against Mars Hoax Day. In 2005, NASA published an article debunking the email hoax, or at least most of it. NASA did note that Mars was set to appear close to earth but would only appear as a pinprick of light.

But it’s a good thing Mars Hoax Day isn’t real, NASA added. If Mars did come close enough to earth to rival the moon in size, its gravity would actually alter the Earth’s orbit and bring up destructive tides.