Mars myth makes annual return

Friday, August 27, 2010 | 6:50 p.m. CDT; updated 7:20 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 27, 2010

COLUMBIA — Every August, a rumor circulates about Mars, the red planet.

“In 2003, an Internet legend began that Mars would be seen as big as the moon without a telescope,” said Val Germann, a Columbia-area astronomer and member of the Central Missouri AstronomicalAssociation. “Unfortunately, this is not true.”

But every year, there are new believers.

“We have been dealing with these calls for about a week and a half,” Germann said.

To the naked eye, Mars usually appears like a small, yellowish star, he said. Currently, the planet is 120 million miles from Earth, and it has never been closer than 36 million miles away.

To look as big as the moon without a telescope, Germann said, Mars would need to come within one million miles of Earth, which would cause serious harm to our planet and the solar system.

“It would slow Earth’s rotation, go into orbit around the Earth and possibly collide with it, forming a new planet,” Germann said. “It would be very bad. Fun to look at — but we don’t want that.”

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