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Net nonsense on Mars
- Earth & Red planet closing in, says hoax

Calcutta, Aug. 21: Until recently, Internet hoaxes were limited to kin of African rulers wanting to share their inherited wealth with you for a small payment or spammers posing as your bank asking for the account password.

Now, Net nonsense is spreading beyond earthly matters to outer space.

Email inboxes are being flooded with messages like “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 27, Mars will look as large as the full moon. No one alive today will ever see this again”.

But it’s just another Internet hoax.

“In the past few days, we have received several queries from students, astronomy enthusiasts and the media on whether Mars is really coming close to Earth on August 27,” said Debiprosad Duari, director (research & academics), MP Birla Planetarium.

“Mars had come closest to Earth on that day in 2003 and, somehow, the dates are being confused. The two planets will actually come significantly close on October 30.”

The scientific explanation is simple. Compared to Earth’s 365.25 days, Mars takes 687 days to go around the sun. As a result, Earth moves faster on its orbit and catches up with Mars after every two years and two months.

This “opposition” last occurred on August 27, 2003, when the red planet came closest in recorded history and the distance between it and Earth narrowed down to 55.758 million km.

“The next ‘opposition’ should have been on November 7, 2005, but since the ‘eccentricities’ or ‘ellipticities’ of Mars’s and Earth’s orbits are different, Earth will come closer a little earlier, on October 30,” explained Duari.

On October 30, the distance will be 69.44 million km between the two.

Seen from Earth, Mars will outshine everything in the night sky except Venus and the Moon.

As far as Calcuttans ' who got a clear view of the close encounter in 2003 ' are concerned, there is every possibility of the city catching the October spectacle as well, a clear sky permitting.

“Mars will rise at 5.33 pm in the direction halfway between east and north-east and it will be exactly overhead at midnight. So, it should be visible throughout the evening and night if one looks at the constellation of Aries,” added Duari.

The email hoax has also prompted American space agency Nasa to issue a warning.

“Just when you thought it was safe to read your email',” begins the notice and goes on to break the myth. Urban legend-busting site www.snopes.com has also put up an article on the recent development regarding the event.

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