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Fact check: Mars will not appear as big as the moon on Aug. 27, photo shows ‘two moon hoax’

Users on social media are sharing a doctored image that alleges Mars will appear to be as big as the moon on Aug. 27. This long-standing false claim has been circulating online since 2003.

A full moon is seen over Mexico City, Mexico July 5, 2020.REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The image reads: “12:30 Aug 27th you will see two moons in the sky, but only one will be the moon. The other will be Mars. It won’t happen again until 2287. No one alive today has ever witnessed this happening.”

While this claim has been circulating and has been debunked since 2003 ( here , here ), users have been reposting it recently.

A post featuring the claim with over 586,000 shares is visible here (See other posts here and here )

The claim goes back to a 2003 email commonly known as the “Mars Hoax” or “Mars Spectacular” ( here ). The popular message, which originally contained mostly accurate information, aimed to inform recipients about an authentic extreme close encounter between Mars and Earth that would culminate on Aug. 27, 2003, an event known as “perihelic opposition” ( go.nasa.gov/3ao9j6L ). On that day, Mars and Earth were within 55,758,006 km of each other, which was the closest the planets had been in 60,000 years and the closest the two planets will be until Aug. 28, 2287 ( go.nasa.gov/33XSEpy ).

CLAIM OF TWO MOONS

A NASA article debunking the claim here explains that early versions of the email did state that Mars would “look as big as the full Moon to the naked eye” but only “at the modest 75 times magnification,” inviting the recipients to use a telescope to see the event. This detail about magnification was then omitted in further iterations of the message.

Shelley Witte, an astronomy educator at the National Air and Space Museum, gave more context here about what happened in the sky on Aug. 27, 2003. “To the naked eye, Mars appeared as bright, reddish, star-like object during the 2003 opposition (…) Compared to the full Moon, Mars was only 1/75 of its size - certainly not a second Moon in the sky”.

On this “too fantastic to be true” claim, Witte concludes that “if Mars does appear as our ‘second moon’, something has gone terribly wrong with the inner solar system or the laws of physics.”

PHOTO IN THE CLAIMS

NBC reported that the image of the claim first appeared in 2009 “on a Russian site called ‘Dream Worlds’, as part of a gallery of fanciful double-moon images.” ( here ) An archived version of the website is visible bit.ly/2E55VRZ (image toward the bottom of the list).

The edited image appears to show the Nilo-Stolobensky Monastery on Stolobny Island in Russia (photos showing similar angles bit.ly/3gSSza4 and bit.ly/3ajGU1G ).

VERDICT

False. Mars will not appear to be as big as the moon on Aug. 27, it is an old, debunked “two moon hoax”.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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