The Mars Hoax. This was close to the truth in 2003, but has morphed into a series of claims that have no basis in fact.

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1 The Mars Hoax Every two years or so, accounts bristle with messages breathlessly announcing that observing Mars this fall will be a once in a lifetime experience. This was close to the truth in 2003, but has morphed into a series of claims that have no basis in fact.

2 The claims are in areas with the original background. The facts of Mars in are in this background.

3 Check it out, guess no one will get much sleep in August. Mars The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!

4 Not so fast The Earth revolves around the Sun faster than Mars, passing by Mars every 780 days. This means that there are some calendar years without a close approach to Mars. The years 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 have no close approaches to Mars. The last opposition of Mars was on March 3, 2012 and the next one will be April 8, None of these are particularly close

5 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 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 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification, Mars will appear through a telescope, the same size as the Full moon to the naked eye.

6 Let s look at these claims one at a time: Claim: 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. Fact: For any reasonable interpretation of recorded history, the closest approach between Mars and Earth was on August 27, 2003.

7 Claim: The next time Mars may come this close is in 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. Fact: The first claim is true, as we will see in the next slide. The second claim is in contradiction with the first. The closest distance between Earth and Mars will be in 2287 or will not happen for another 60,000 years. In fact, the opposition on August 28, 2287 will be 0.11% closer than in 2003.* *data from Guide 8.0 software (www.projectpluto.com)

8 Claims: 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 arc seconds wide. Facts: On Aug. 27, 2012, Mars will be 140 million miles from Earth. The following slide clarifies the situation with a diagram of the inner solar system on that date. At that time, Mercury, Venus, and the Sun are all closer to the Earth than Mars.* *data from Guide 8.0 software (www.projectpluto.com)

9 This diagram was derived from NASA / JPL s Small-Body Database Browser. This JAVA applet will build an interactive simulation of the inner solar system and any known asteroid or comet. Click on Orbit Diagrams, near the bottom of the page.

10 Claims: 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 and will appear arc seconds wide. Facts: On Aug. 27, 2012, Mars is visible to the naked eye in the west. An hour before sunset, Saturn is 1.5x brighter than Mars. In fact there will be 4 stars visible at that time that are brighter than Mars.* *data from Guide 8.0 software (www.projectpluto.com)

11 Claims: 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 arc seconds wide. Facts: One arc-second is an exceedingly small angle. A full Moon is about 1,800 arc-seconds in apparent diameter. On August 27 th, 2012, Mars subtends an angle of 5 arc-seconds. That night Moon will appear 310 times larger in the sky and only 1/4 th the claimed angular diameter. *data from Guide 8.0 software (www.projectpluto.com)

12 But wait, there s more bad news The Earth s atmosphere blurs fine details of the night sky. Ellery Hale once noted that looking at astronomical objects through the atmosphere was like bird-watching from the bottom of a swimming pool.

13 This limit in image resolution imposed by our atmosphere, for most telescopes, is about 1 arc-second. If we blur the image of Mars from the beginning of the file, we might see something like this through a backyard telescope on August 27, Applying more magnification will only magnify the blur, without adding more detail.

14 So the images above are cheating in two ways. First, if you magnified the image of Mars so that it looked as large as the Moon does to your naked eye, it would not have the claimed resolution; it would still be a blurry mess.

15 Secondly, this image of the Moon is not what your naked eye sees. This is a much higher resolution image taken with a telescope. Look at the Moon closely the next time you see it in the night sky for comparison.

16 Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m. By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month.

17 Claim: Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m. Fact: In mid-august, 2012, Mars rises at about noon and goes below the horizon 2 ½ hours after sunset. All objects have an azimuth in the sky. If the writer was trying to convey the time when Mars is visible in the night sky at its highest point, then that occurs at 17:30 EDT, during daylight. *data from Guide 8.0 software (www.projectpluto.com)

18 Why was 2003 so different than 2012? In this diagram, the inner loop is the orbit of the Earth and the larger one is the orbit of Mars. Mars orbit is not a perfect circle. (Neither is the Earth s but it s pretty close to one, with the Sun at the center.) When Earth passes Mars in its faster, smaller orbit, it s called an opposition. (The point of minimum distance is very close to this date, but not exactly so.) Late in August the orbit of Mars is closest to the Sun, at the same time, the Earth passes a point that is nearest to the orbit of Mars, but usually Mars is somewhere else. They pass each other in late August only about once every 15 years.* Diagram from Meeus, More Mathematical Astronomy Morsels, 2002, Fig, 36a, p *Meeus, Mathematical Astronomy Morsels, 1997, p. 227.

19 Why is 2003 so different than 2012? The next close pass will be on July 31, 2018, when Mars will appear only 3% smaller and 1% dimmer than in August 2003.* *data from Guide 8.0 software (www.projectpluto.com) Diagram from Meeus, More Mathematical Astronomy Morsels, 2002, Fig, 36a, p. 214.

20 Is the 2003 approach as good as it gets? No. You can find a list of close Earth-Mars approaches here. Look at the bottom of the page for the perihelic oppositions. These are nearly the dates of closest approach between Mars and the Earth in each of the above-mentioned 15 year cycles. To find the distance in miles, multiply the distance in AU s by 92,956,000. To find the apparent diameter of Mars in arc-seconds, divide 9.35 by the distance in AU s. Actually things get a little better as we look into the future. The orbit of Mars becomes more eccentric (less like a circle) until the year 24,100 A.D., allowing the orbits of Mars and Earth to become a little closer.

21 The vertical axis of this plot is the minimum Earth-Mars distance in AU s. The horizontal axis is the year A.D. From this you can see that there are closer encounters than the one in 2003 in the years 2287, 2366, 2571, 2650, 2729, 2808, and It must be emphasized that the opposition in 2729 is only slightly closer than the one in the year 30, the difference being less than 0.1% of the total distance. Diagram from Meeus, More Mathematical Astronomy Morsels, 2002, Fig, 36b, p. 217.

22 Share this with your children and grandchildren. With this there can be no argument. Find a local astronomy club, or visit the MacAdam Student Observatory for one of our outstanding public presentations, and see Mars. No matter how it appears, seeing it for yourself is a unique experience.

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