Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Truth Is Out There

One thing I've learned recently is that rumors can have anniversaries. Another is that the Internet is not a reliable source of information. The truth is out there, but finding it and verifying it can be tricky. A convenient example showed up in my email yesterday.


The gist of the (incorrect message was:

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles off earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons.

This story dates back to the year 2003 when Mars did make a close approach to Earth. No, it never looked as big as described here, and no, it never will unless you become the first person to go to Mars. Nonetheless, the story spread via email and each August it shows up again. I'm thinking of holding a Mars Hoax party to celebrate the anniversary.


What I do find dismaying is that people pass this kind of story on with no verification. There are many ways to check things out. Here are a couple you may find useful.


First, there are websites you can check for hoaxes on.






Second, you can dig out actual data through WolframAlpha, which may be the Internet's best calculation website:


Mars in 2003




vs 2010




You will see the distance to Earth near the top and a drawing of relative positions if you scroll down. Comparing the two will show you that Mars was close in 2003. This year, Mars is on the far side of the Sun and nearly impossible to see.


My thought for the day: Before you put a CC Everybody onto an email, ask yourself if what you are sending out can be checked.


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