So Close You Can See The Little Green Men?
Date Added:Aug. 7, 2003
On the Internet, the slightest change or omission can cause a chain letter to misinform. The author's unfortunate decision to leave out the complete date of this "once-in-a-lifetime" event has turned the resurfacing of this chain into an annual event.
Those interested in astronomy may know this, but for the rest of us, it is interesting to know.
Never again in your lifetime will the Red Planet be so spectacular! This month and next month the Earth is catching up with Mars, 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.
The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles 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 25.11arc 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, Mars will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.
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. That's pretty convenient when it comes to seeing something that no human has seen in recorded history.
So mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grows progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share with your children and grandchildren.
No one alive today will ever see this again.
As with many things in life, most of us ignore astronomy unless something significant is happening. Sure, solar eclipses and meteor showers sometimes get some media coverage, but both amateur and professional astronomers will tell you that there is always something spectacular going on in the heavens, if you just know what to look for.
The description above is of a real event, but one that has already passed. This chain letter first surfaced in July, 2003, and the event it foretold occured weeks later, on August 27. The astronomy sources I consulted confirmed that the event would not repeat itself for nearly 300 years.
This chain demonstrates beautifully one of the biggest problems with using e-mail as a means for distributing information: few people consider the permanence of messages sent this way. E-mail is easy and quick to send and just as easy to delete. So, many of us mistakenly assume it is also temporary - automatically disapearing once its purpose has been served.
But e-mail chain letters are a little more persistent than that. In the example above, the author likely intended the message for a few friends he or she assumed would read it and delete it. Instead, they passed it on exactly as it was authored. Because it lacks a reference to a specific year, it resurfaces each summer, virtually unchanged from the original.
Further confusing things, in 2007, the annual return of the "Mars hoax" coincided with a real, though comparably less spectactular astronomical event involving the red planet. Every 26 months, the orbits of Mars and the Earth bring them on the same side of the sun. According to Space.com, this means that Mars will be one of the brightest objects in the night sky. The phenomenon witll begin in late September, and will be at its peak in December. However, they clarify that this is not to be confused with the now-mythical martian experience described in the chain letter.
E-mail is an unreliable medium for distributing and receiving information. Facts can be lost, distorted, manipulated or assumed. This one is pretty harmless, but what about the next one? Break this chain.
References: About.com, Snopes.com, Yahoo News (Space.com)