Will Mars look as big as full Moon next week?

August 20, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science


Mars from the Hubble Space Telescope (Photo: NASA and ESA)

Imagine looking out your window on a late August night and seeing the planet Mars hovering in the sky as large as the nearly full moon. It would be an amazing sight!

A recent e-mail forwarded to me from a work colleague promised just that: On the night of Aug. 27, it said, Mars will be at its brightest and “it will look like the earth has 2 moons.”

The next time Mars comes this close, it added, will be in the year 2287. “Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again.”

Sounds impressive. The only problem? It’s not true.

It seems this myth started in 2003 when Mars reached a point called opposition, when it is closest to the Earth and appears larger and brighter than any other time of the year.

Opposition this year, however, happened last January. And, in any case, a bigger and brighter Mars doesn’t mean the planet appears Moon-size (although it did appear bigger and brighter in 2003 than it will until 2287)

The editors at Astronomy magazine summed it up nicely when they recently addressed the myth: “For Mars to look that large, it somehow would have to jump out of its orbit and move some 34 million miles (55 million kilometers) closer to the Sun.”

The magazine also did a great job explaining how the myth began.

Even though Mars won’t look gigantic in the night sky, it’s still pretty fun to see, whether you’re viewing it through a telescope, binoculars or with your naked eye. Look for it in the evening sky in the west.

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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