8/9 Reporters Notebook

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Red planet sighting event is hoax

A rumor about the red planet, which claims that Mars will come its closest ever to Earth on Aug. 27, has been racing through cyberspace inboxes.

“Three different people sent me the e-mail,” said Carol Nash, secretary of Clovis’ Astronomy Club. “It’s stirring up excitement. But it’s just someone’s idea of a joke.”

Mars did pass extraordinarily close to Earth — in August of 2003. According to www.snopes.com, a Web site created to debunk urban legends, the e-mail “is just another example of an item… being circulated again, long after the events it describes have come to pass.”

Eastern New Mexico University’s Mick Hoffman looked through his telescope in the summer of 2003 and saw the red planet, when it was about 34.6 million miles away from Earth.

“I could barely see the ice cap,” said Hoffman, who teaches an extended learning astronomy class at the university.
Without a telescope, Hoffman said, the red planet normally looks like a red dot about half the size of the head of a pin.
Although he called the e-mail a hoax, Hoffman said that Earth and Mars are moving closer together. The infamous planet will have another somewhat intimate encounter with Earth in October, when it will be about 42 million miles away, Hoffman said, appearing about 20 percent smaller than it did in 2003, according to www.snopes.com.

Reporter’s notebook was compiled by CNJ staff writer Marlena Hartz. Suggested items may be mailed to Managing Editor Rick White at P.O. Box 1689, Clovis 88102. The e-mail address is:
rick_white@link.freedom.com