Yesterday I received an e-mail with a PowerPoint show attached, and the show told a pretty story, with music, about how Mars is going to be so close to the Earth on August 27th that it will look as large as the full moon. (Watch the PowerPoint show) Well, the person who sent the message is a very smart person, and I think that occasionally I am a sort of smart person, so for a minute I was just a little convinced and I really wanted the Mars thing to be true. I wanted to be able to gaze at the night sky and see Mars looking as big as the full moon, like in the above picture. (That’s not me, by the way.) But I was suspicious so the first thing I did was go to the NASA Web site. Here is what I found, under Mars Viewing Tips for 2006:
July – August 2006:
Mars is too close to the sun for safe viewing by amateur astronomers this month. Mars is visible with difficulty after sunset for the first two weeks of the month before becoming lost in the glare of the sun by month’s end.
This sure didn’t sound too promising. So I searched the NASA site for Mars and hoax, and I found an article about the e-mail that is currently circulating about this alleged upcoming Mars event. It is a rewrite of a 2003 e-mail. I went to the urban legends Web sites and there are lots of stories about it. But the most convincing one comes from NASA. This article is from 2005 but is based on the 2003 Mars event.
Remember after 9/11, all those hoax e-mails, those messages warning us not to do things like gather in malls on October 31st? There are Web sites that report these hoaxes, and it’s fascinating to read about the lengths to which people will go to try to fool other people. I can’t imagine what motivates them to write these e-mails or produce PowerPoint shows like the one I received.
Here are a few resources about hoaxes and urban legends that you might enjoy:
- Hoax Busters [just a list]
- Urban Legends Reference Pages [Snopes]
- Urban Legends and Folklore [About] See also Friday Fun (Index)