Rumor: Mars is coming close to Earth on August 27

A digital composite of Planet Mars with Earth visible in the background. 

Will the Red Planet get so close to Earth later this month that it will bear to us a once-in-a-lifetime resemblance to the moon?

FALSE: This rumor apparently pops up every year

The 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie "Total Recall" enticed us with the idea that we might one day get the opportunity to travel to the surface of Mars. We’re not there yet, but will a "close encounter" allow us the chance to see more of its red surface later this month?

Snopes and About.com explored a series of viral emails that suggested Mars is on the cusp of getting closer to earth than it has in tens of thousands of years. Among them is one that reads: "It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is 2287. Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again."

Unfortunately for Mars-philes, the planet isn’t coming any significant amount of distance closer to us this month, and any good looks at the Red Planet will have to occur through a high-powered telescope.

The "Mars is close" rumor is one that has been circulating since 2003, when Mars actually did make a close approach, coming within 35 million miles of Earth. It looked brighter and larger then, but still like a bright star through the naked eye, and certainly not as big as the moon even through a modest telescope, said astronomer Dr. Mark Hammergren with the Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

Hammergren told MSN News that he and his colleagues are flooded with emails leading up to every August from people who read some version of the closing-in of Mars.

"Every year, regardless of where Mars is, these emails get edited, and the data or year always gets changed to what year is coming up," he said. "We had something on our website last year alerting people to the hoax, and we get these inquiries often enough that we’ll just send people a boilerplate response. It’s interesting how you have this modern hoax that gets repeated every year."

 

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