Monday, June 21, 2010

Mars Hoax

Sharing from Dr. Mel Blake:

Hi Everyone,

I have gotten several emails with reference to this topic and so I thought that I
would make a collective reply. It seems the Mars Hoax 2010 has started.

Some of you over the next little while will get an email announcement
with regards to a spectacular close approach of Mars (closer than any time
for recorded history). It will say that this event will take place in August and be
the event of your lifetime to see the red planet and it will make claims on how big
Mars will appear in the sky. It all looks very official and sometimes even has NASA
logos. This is because they are reproducing NASA public domain notices.

This email is a hoax. The Red Planet made its closest approach for decades
in August, 2003 around the dates the email quotes. Ever since then, every year,
around this time of year the hoax email has re-surfaced and generated lots of
public inquiries and confusion. I can only guess the motive for the hoax.
It could be simply mischief or else it could be some vendetta against
astronomers. Maybe a student got a bad grade on astronomy?
I suspect it might also be a way to send viruses, so it you get
it and it has an attachment, I wouldn't open it. It might also be used as a way
to test active email accounts. Maybe the folks at computer services might have
other suggestions.

In any case, ignore the Mars email.

For your information, Mars is not particularly close in August. The best planet
to watch then will be Jupiter.

Oh, and Happy Summer Solstice! today the Sun reaches its farthest point
north for the whole year and we will have the longest day and shortest night.
They'll be celebrating at Stonehenge.

Mel Blake
Director, UNA Planetarium and Observatory
Dept Physics and Earth Science