Watch for it: Mars will be CLOSEST to Earth in over 30 years

OUT OF THIS WORLD | What’s Up In Space – the biggest news coming down to Earth from space

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, July 6, 2018, 5:32 PM – Have you seen a little red light in the night sky, getting brighter and brighter, night by night? It’s the planet Mars, and as the end of July approaches, the Red Planet is on approach to its closest pass by Earth in decades!

Mars, the Fourth Planet from the Sun, will align with the Earth and the Sun on July 27, for an annual event known as Opposition. This is when the Sun, Earth and Mars will be lined up perfectly, with Mars on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun. At that time, Mars will be up all night long, from dusk until dawn, and it will be crossing the sky with the Full Thunder Moon – the smallest, most distant ‘apogee’ Full Moon of 2018. Coincidentally, this will also be the night of a Total Lunar Eclipse, which will be the longest total lunar eclipse for the next century!

Four nights later – on July 31 – Mars reaches its closest point to Earth.

Mars at closest approach, just a few days after its Opposition. Credit: NASA GSVS

Mars will be only 57.6 million kilometres from Earth on this date.

That’s the closest approach of Mars since 2003, when it was 55.7 million km away, and there won’t be a closer approach until 2035, when it comes to within 56.9 million km.

Thus, this is the biggest and brightest Mars we’ll see in roughly 32 years!

In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 57.6 million kilometers. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Right now, Mars is experiencing a global dust storm, which is blotting out some of the surface details of the planet.

Just looking at the views some are seeing of Mars now, weeks before closest approach, though, it is still more than worth the effort to check out Mars at this time.

Beware hoaxes!

Credit: NASA

In the days leading up to July 31, Mars is going to look bigger and bigger, especially if you’re using a telescope to look at it, however, watch out for a persistent hoax that is going to blow this fact WAY out of proportion.

Every year, it seems, a message makes the rounds over email, Facebook or other social media, with a wild, and completely false claim that the planet Mars is going to look as big as the Moon in our sky.

Mars hoax email. Courtesy: Denver

Museum of Science and Nature

Normally, this message targets the date of August 27, but with the upcoming close pass on July 31, it seems the perfect opportunity for the hoaxers to resurrect their story, and just change the date. So, keep an eye out to see if it shows up in your social media feed (and maybe send the perpetrators here, in response).

The plain and simple truth us, the planet Mars has never come even close to appearing as big as the Moon in Earth’s skies, and it never will.

The problem with the meme being shared is that its message leaves out two really important details:

The real event only happened in 2003, and it will only repeat in 2287, and

• Even on those two dates, the only way the Moon and Mars looked to be the same size is if you look at the Moon with the naked eye, and looked at Mars through a telescope.

How can we be sure it won’t happen?

Well, let’s look at the two ways that it could happen:

1) The closest Earth and Mars ever come to each other is 54.6 million kilometers. That’s roughly 142 times farther away than the Moon. So, if Mars was to appear as big as the Moon, from that distance, the planet would need to be over three and a half times bigger than Jupiter! In reality, Mars is smaller than Earth. So, it’s impossible for Mars to appear as large as the Moon, from over 54 million kilometres away.

2) With a diameter of 6,779 km, Mars is just under twice as big as the Moon (diameter 3,474 km). So, if you kept Mars the same size (NOT 3.5x the size of Jupiter), you would have to move Mars up to being just under twice as far away as the Moon, or around 750,000 km away from Earth. Mars getting that close to Earth, though, is just as impossible as the planet suddenly inflating to 72x its normal size. Earth and Mars are locked in their respective orbits, only coming as close as 54.6 million km, due to the persistent gravitational influence of the big players in the solar system – the Sun and Jupiter. Something utterly cataclysmic would need to happen to our solar system for that to change, and since nothing like that will happen (at least not for billions of years), Mars will keep its distance from us.

That’s it. Either you inflate the size of Mars by an impossible amount, or you move it impossibly close to Earth, and neither of those things are going to happen. Ever.

Of course, given its persistence now, this hoax meme will probably still show up, and may even keep showing up until the next time Mars reaches its absolute closest, in 2287 (depending on the fate of the internet and civilization).

Also, take note: Some of the newest additions to this hoax, notably in 2016, tried to add a measure of ‘doomsday’ to the meme, since apparently non-doomsday memes no longer pack the same punch. Mainly stemming from Russian news sites, these claims stated that the close-encounter with Mars had “caused panic in the scientific community,” due to a previous closest encounter – back in the year 57,617 B.C. – supposedly caused “changes in the earth’s crust and climatic disasters.”

This is also untrue, because Mars cannot have that kind of affect on Earth from over 50 million km away. While Earth and Mars do exert gravitational forces on each other, these forces become very tiny, very quickly as you move farther away. They are so tiny at the distance of 56 million km that they have no notable impact on Earth’s tectonics or climate. Quite simply, if Earth’s crust and atmosphere could be influenced in any major way by such minuscule forces, the Universe itself would never have been able to sustain itself. It would be so fragile that it simply couldn’t exist. Since the universe does exist, and we exist to experience it, there’s no way for the meme, or any of its doomsday additions, to be true.

The best things to do for the approach of Mars Opposition, and the Mars close approach shortly after, is to keep an eye on the weather, to ensure you have clear skies, arrange to acquire some binoculars or a telescope, or see what kind of star parties may be happening in your area on or around that night, so that you can not only experience this close pass, but also share the experience with other skywatching enthusiasts. Even if no opportunities are available, still get out and see Mars. It will be visible, bright in the night sky, even from the most heavily light-polluted urban areas.

Sources: NASA | RASC | NASA | With files from The Weather Network

Watch Below: For Science! – Breaking down science hoaxes

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