Beware the Mars Hoax
From NASA Science News
There’s a rumor about Mars going around the internet. Here are some snippets from a widely-circulated email message:
“The Red Planet is about to be spectacular.”
“Earth is catching up with Mars [for] the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history.”
“On August 27th … Mars will look as large as the full moon.”
And finally, “NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.”
Only the first sentence is true. The Red Planet is about to be spectacular. The rest is a hoax.
Here are the facts: Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter this year on October 30th at 0319 Universal Time. Distance: 69 million kilometers. To the unaided eye, Mars will look like a bright red star, a pinprick of light, certainly not as wide as the full Moon.
Disappointed? Don’t be. If Mars did come close enough to rival the Moon, its gravity would alter Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides.
Sixty-nine million km is good. At that distance, Mars shines brighter than anything else in the sky except the Sun, the Moon and Venus. The visual magnitude of Mars on Oct. 30, 2005, will be -2.3. Even inattentive sky watchers will notice it, rising at sundown and soaring overhead at midnight.
You might remember another encounter with Mars, about two years ago, on August 27, 2003. That was the closest in recorded history, by a whisker, and millions of people watched as the distance between Mars and Earth shrunk to 56 million km. This October’s encounter, at 69 million km, is similar. To casual observers, Mars will seem about as bright and beautiful in 2005 as it was in 2003.
Although closest approach is still months away, Mars is already conspicuous in the early morning. Before the sun comes up, it’s the brightest object in the eastern sky, really eye-catching. If you have a telescope, even a small one, point it at Mars. You can see the bright icy South Polar Cap and strange dark markings on the planet’s surface.
Above: Painted green by a flashlight, astronomer Dennis Mammana of California points out Mars to onlookers on Aug. 26, 2003, the last time Mars was so close to Earth. Photo credit: Thad V’Soske.
One day people will walk among those dark markings, exploring and prospecting, possibly mining ice from the polar caps to supply their settlements. It’s a key goal of NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration: to return to the Moon, to visit Mars and to go beyond.
Every day the view improves. Mars is coming–and that’s no hoax.
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
10 Need-to-Know Things About Mars
If the sun were as tall as a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a nickel, and Mars would be about as big as an aspirin tablet.
Mars orbits our sun, a star. Mars is the fourth planet from the sun at a distance of about 228 million km (142 million miles) or 1.52 AU.
One day on Mars takes just a little over 24 hours (the time it takes for Mars to rotate or spin once). Mars makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Martian time) in 687 Earth days.
Mars is a rocky planet, also known as a terrestrial planet. Mars’ solid surface has been altered by volcanoes, impacts, crustal movement, and atmospheric effects such as dust storms.
Mars has a thin atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2) and argon (Ar).
Mars has two moons named Phobos and Deimos.
There are no rings around Mars.
More than 40 spacecraft have been launched for Mars, from flybys and orbiters to rovers and landers that touched surface of the Red Planet. The first true Mars mission success was Mariner 4 in 1965.
At this time in the planet’s history, Mars’ surface cannot support life as we know it. A key science goal is determining Mars’ past and future potential for life.
Mars is known as the Red Planet because iron minerals in the Martian soil oxidize, or rust, causing the soil — and the dusty atmosphere — to look red.
Prof. Metin Sett at Harvard University is look at animals for ways to best get about on Mars. It’s called bio inspiration and he has come up with some amazing findings.