| A composite picture of the Red Planet from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. (Reuters)
If you’ve been planning a star party on August 27, cancel it. Experts say the widely-forwarded e-mail — stating that August 27, 2006, will witness the closest encounter between Mars and Earth in recorded history — is nothing but a hoax.
“The information in the mail is baseless and totally incorrect. The e-mail says that on August 27, during the day, the planet Mars will dazzle the world by appearing brighter than ever in history and ‘as large as the full moon to the naked eye’. It has generated tremendous excitement, but nothing of this sort will happen,” asserts Debiprosad Duari, director (research & academic), MP Birla Institute of Fundamental Research and MP Birla Planetarium.
In fact, on August 27, 2006, Mars will hardly be visible because of the glare of the sun. The distance between the two planets will be around 385 million km.
Mars did make a historically-close pass-by on August 27, 2003, when it was closest to Earth in almost 60,000 years. As Earth and Mars orbit the sun at different speeds, they make a close approach to each other almost every 26 months.
Some of the excerpts of the e-mail doing the rounds:
“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.”
“It is heartening that the news of this celestial event has created so much excitement. In the past week, I have received more than hundred queries, four invitations to a star party and my inbox has been flooded with questions about the best viewing time and locations. Sadly, I had to disappoint all these eager people,” says Duari.
However, some good news for the very optimistic. The next Mars comes as close to Earth as it did in 2003 will be on August 29, 2287.