Saturday, August 15, 2009

Debunking the Red Planet Flyby

Recently on the wearesmrt boards, e-lad posted a news blurb claiming that Mars will be so close to Earth this month that it would look as big as the moon through a pair of binoculars. Here's the full text:

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and
will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification, Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.


This entire article is bogus. The event referred to in this article took place in 2003 when Mars was the closest to Earth in the last 60,000 years. However, Mars does come close to Earth every 15 years or so. So in 2018, we will see another close flyby of Mars.

Currently, Mars is on the opposite side of the sun from us. Here's a picture showing where Mars (the red dot) is in the sky right now. Note that the Sun (the yellow dot) is not too far to the left of Mars.

Image from

Here's the Snopes article debunking this claim.


  1. Well, thanks a lot for pointing out how stupid and credulous I am!

    So I got scammed! Fuck me.....

  2. That's what the Debunkey Monkey is here for! :)