Mars: Still not even close!

I haven't written a blog entry here in quite some time. A telephone call from an interested library patron drew me out of retirement; she was excited that "Mars will be so close" in August and was asking whether we would have telescopes set up to see it. She had been misled by a very old "myth" or "hoax" that astronomy writers must address annually.

Every year many people receive an email that says something like: "The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!" Or "On August 27 Mars will be as big and bright as the full Moon." This particular "urban legend" has been circulating since 2003. It wasn't true then. It's not true now. It will never be true.

The closest Mars got to us this year was on January 27 when the two worlds were a good 62 million miles apart. Tonight (July 28) Mars is about 155 million miles distant and appears as a tiny reddish "star" in the evening sky -- a far cry from the big full Moon proclaimed in the email.

You can see Mars and other worlds with your own eyes and without a telescope. As twilight fades on a clear night, look to the western sky. Close to the horizon is the brilliant planet Venus. Higher and to the left of Venus are two dimmer star-like lights in the sky: the lightly golden one is the ring world Saturn, and the reddish dot nearby is the Red Planet (Mars).

A clear dark sky has many real wonders to behold. Enjoy the view!


Image: Star map generated by TheSky6.

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