It's coming!! I know it is coming, I have this sense of foreboding right down to my very socks. It is coming, because it has come before. It has come and worked its dastardly work and then gone away, but it is coming back to do it all over again.
It comes back at this time of the year. It is like a continuing, haunting presence that is lurking just out of sight, waiting for the right moment to show up again.
Now, about here all of you are scratching your collective heads and wondering what in the world I am talking about.
The "it" is the Mars Hoax. Each year for the last seven years this thing shows up near the beginning August. Sometime soon, someone, somewhere is going to receive an e-mail with the attention grabbing headline that says, "Mars will be as big as a full moon," or, "This won't happen again for a bazillion years," or "No one now alive will ever see this again," and that you should send this to all your friends.
All of it referring to when the planet Mars makes its once every 26-months close approach to Earth. This close approach is called opposition. That is when it will appear opposite the sun in the night sky.
This all started in 2003 when Mars did have a very close approach to Earth on Aug. 27 of that year. The problem started in 2004 when someone, somewhere dug out that story from 2003 and sent it out as if it were happening again.
The story was copied incorrectly and gave the false impression that Mars would look as large as a full moon. Something that is technically, absolutely impossible.
The last time Mars was at opposition was January 2010 and the next time will be March 2012, so it is obvious that these supposed events are not going to happen in August.
At the present time Mars can be viewed in the morning sky at about an hour before sunrise.
Mars is just now coming around from being on the far side of the sun so it is a very small dot amid the background stars and difficult to see without some kind of optical aid.
So, when you get the e-mail about Mars being as big as a full moon, and I am sure you will, do the smart thing. Before you are tempted to send it to all your friends ... hit the delete key.
Oh, wait, did I say that Mars will be at opposition in 2012? Wonder if that will have anything to do with the Mayan calendar and the end of the world?
Sky Watch: July 30, new moon. Wednesday, August 3 the moon will be below Saturn.
Next Week: More astronomical blathering.