This weekend, Mars (here in a Hubble telescope shot here in 2016) will be in opposition, meaning it will be much closer to our planet it is usually. But it will not be close enough to Earth to be as big as the Moon, as a stupid virus scam claims.
Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA), J. Bell (ASU) and M. Wolff (Institute for Space Science)
This weekend, there is a party in the shadow of Earth, and our cosmic neighbors are invited!
The guest list is a who-is-who of the nearby celestial bodies. The Moon will be there and go through the center of the vast shadow of Earth for nearly two hours on Friday night (July 27), resulting in the longest total lunar eclipse of the century. (Unfortunately, North Americans will not be able to see this solar eclipse in person, but they can stream it.)
Then there is the guest of honor: Mars. Thanks to a biennial Earth / Mars orbiting of the Sun on July 31
To paraphrase an Apollo astronaut, "Houston, we have some nonsense."
A viral fraudulent article making that claim is trotted out every few years when Mars comes close to Earth. But the notion that a rock 576 million miles away suddenly becomes a thousand times bigger in the night sky is utter nonsense – and NASA wants to make sure you know that.
"Do not be fooled by Mars Hoax," NASA scientists recently wrote in a blog post that someone in the agency felt obliged to publish. "The message is that Mars will be as big as the moon in our night sky, and if that were true, we would be in great trouble considering the gravitational forces on Earth, Mars and our moon!"
We can speculate on the devastation a lunar Mars would cause for everyone involved: Heavily higher tides on Earth, a dramatically warmed Mars climate, and perhaps even the distance of the planets' orbits from their orbits, to name but a few , But it's probably more productive to say what will happen when Mars comes closest to Earth in 15 years.
Opposition to Nonsense
You must know the following: Earth and Mars travel wobbly around the sun, elliptical orbits, so their relationship to each other always changes in space. Every few years their lanes align.
When that happens, Mars is called an opposition because the Red Planet and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth. For the earthlings, this means that when Mars sets in the west at night, Mars seems to rise to the east. In the coming nights, Mars will indeed be brighter and brighter in the evening sky as the planet approaches Earth on July 31, and finally it's just 57.6 million kilometers from our planet before leaving.
That's still really far away, but it's way closer than the average distance between our two big worlds, which is about 225 million kilometers. The minimum distance between Earth and Mars is about 54.6 million kilometers, but this approach seldom happens. The closest we came to in modern history in 2003, when Mars was about 56 million kilometers from Earth – that was the distance that the two planets had in nearly 60,000 years! (Incidentally, 2003 is the first year that Mars Hoax emails ran around.)
What will this cosmic occurrence actually look like? Mars will still appear to the naked eye as a little red sparkle in the sky, but it will be about 10 times brighter than a few months ago (still not as bright as Venus). With a good telescope, you may be able to see some of the finer details of the red planet, including the polar ice caps, but it still does not look as clear as the moon, NASA said.
For space fans, it's all a great weekend. But what does the approach of Mars mean to you personally? Some astrologers warn that the sun and the opposing positions of Mars on the zodiac wheel this weekend could lead to a wave of "sexual tension and magnetism". Since astrology is not an evidence-based science, we can not speak with the truth of that prediction, but here's a scientific advice: If you meet someone this weekend who tells you that Mars will be as big as the moon, night sky, sleep not with them
Originally published on Live Science.