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Mars hoax back in orbit

Men are from Mars, fruitcakes are from cyberspace.
Weeks ago, my brother-in-law forwarded us an e-mail about a once-in-a-lifetime event coming our way at the end of August.
To the naked eye on Aug. 27, the e-mail said, Mars would look as big as the full moon.
“It will look like the earth has two moons,” the e-mail said.
Reading further, my wife and I learned that Mars was coming within a teeny-weeny 34.6 million miles of Earth in late August, and it would not be this close again until 2287.
When we saw my brother-in-law during a recent vacation, he reminded us again to be on the lookout this week for a big Mars bar in the sky.
We all agreed it would be a spectacular sight.
By now, the astronomers among you are laughing and pointing fingers at how gullible I am, thinking that Mars was going to be as big as the moon come 12:30 a.m. Thursday, which was supposed to be the best viewing time.
Bob Burris, an astronomy buff in Salisbury, tells me this updated e-mail resurfaces regularly about this time of year, ever since Mars actually came close to the earth on Aug. 27, 2003.
“It’s one of those urban legends that refused to die,” Burris said.
Some quick research told me that Mars came within 35 million miles of earth in 2003 ó the closest it had been in 60,000 years.
When that happened, the red planet appeared six times larger and 85 times brighter in the sky than it did ordinarily.
Burris remembered the time. Even with a small telescope, he said, one could see more detail than usual.
And large backyard “scopes” apparently could discern Mars’ polar caps and some surface detail.
“It was relatively impressive that year,” Burris said, but in no way did our view of Mars in 2003 approach the size of a full moon.
Even I would have remembered that, I thought.
Ralph Deal, who handles public relations for the Astronomical Society of Rowan County, also confirmed that the once-in-a-lifetime Mars event being promoted by e-mail throughout the country is a hoax.
But that shouldn’t keep people from looking to the sky this week, Deal said.
In fact, Mars, which is in the eastern sky with Venus, is going to be brighter than usual.
Bright enough that Deal plans to give Mars a good look through his telescope come early Thursday morning.
“If we can keep some clear sky and all, I’ll probably get out there about that time,” he said.
The sky-watchers with telescopes should not stop at Venus and Mars. Scan to the west, and you should be able to pick up Jupiter.
Last week, at the end of a Kannapolis Intimidators game, the Astronomical Society set up three telescopes and had a pair of binoculars handy for star-gazing at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium. The telescopes were trained on Jupiter, which also revealed three of its moons.
Lines of people waited for a look.
“It was a big hit,” Deal said.
When I heard the Mars Show would not play as promised, I called my wife to deliver the bad news.
Having just forwarded an e-mail about the event to two other people, she laughed to learn this e-mail keeps showing up year after year.
“Like a fruitcake,” she said.

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