They say every good lie has a hint of the truth. Maybe that's why the e-mails that have circulated around August every year lately seem so convincing.
According to Internet lore, Mars and Earth will be orbiting closer together than at any point in the past 60,000 years on August 27. And that's true — or at least it was on August 27, 2003, when the two planets passed a mere 56 million kilometers from each other (the next closest distance of the decade was Oct. 30, 2005, when it was 69 million km away). Mars was bigger and brighter than it had ever been, and looked as big as the moon when magnified 75 times by a telescope.
Unfortunately, a couple key facts were dropped from the viral email: The year of occurrence and the tidbit that a powerful telescope was required to see Mars in moon-like size. Hence some reports that tonight Mars will appear magically in the sky as a second moon.
Let's just say we're better off without a moon-sized Mars. According to NASA, if Mars were ever to be seen that large, it would drastically alter the gravitational pull and the tides, wrecking havoc with worldwide tsunamis.
Mars fans have actually missed the best viewing for the red planet by a few months. This year is was at its brightest on Jan. 27.
Of course, that's no reason not to look to the stars tonight. Tonight, if you see a small but bright object near the moon, you've spotted a planet — Jupiter.