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Mars hoax: 'No two moons' on Friday night

world Updated: Aug 27, 2010 16:53 IST

Scientists are continuously trying to debunk the Mars hoax email that spreads like wildfire every year, an email that says 'Mars will appear to be as big as the moon on August 27.'

"The possibility of seeing Mars as large as the moon strikes the imagination," National Geographic News quoted Marc Jobin, staff astronomer at the Montréal Planetarium in Quebec, as saying.

"The sad reality is that a lot of people have little comprehension of astronomy and are unable to call the hoax," he added.

Planets revolve in elliptical orbits, because of which their orbital distances from each other vary with time. For example, Mars's orbit means that its distance from Earth can range from 34.6 million miles (55.7 million kilometers) to almost 250 million miles (401.3 million kilometers).

On August 27, 2003, Mars made a historically tight approach to Earth, coming about 34.7 million miles (56 million kilometers) away.

Such a near pass hadn't happened in nearly 60,000 years, and it won't happen again until August 28, 2287.

Through a backyard telescope with a high-power eyepiece, viewers could even make out many surface features on Mars's disk.

"An email was circulated with this information, but unfortunately the part about the telescope was dropped off and people only passed on the 'size of moon' part," said Geza Gyuk, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

If the red planet actually did appear as huge as purported in the Mars hoax email, life on Earth would likely be doomed.

Mars "would have extreme consequences for the shape of the Earth's orbit, with our planet swinging much closer and much farther away from the sun," Montréal Planetarium's Jobin said.

"In turn, this would make our planet's climate radically different from what we know, with extreme cold and hot weather, making for very complicated living conditions-not exactly hospitable for higher life-forms," he added.