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Catching astronomy hoax red-handed

8/27/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Every year about this time, Paul Adams will have a few people come to him and ask about the big astronomical event coming up.

If you haven't been on Facebook or surfed the Internet recently, you might have missed the "fact" the planet Mars was going to appear as big as the moon in the night sky early this morning.

Uh, no, said Adams, a science professor at Fort Hays State University.

"It's not true at all; Mars is as far away as it always is," Adams said. "There's times Mars appears brighter, and a tiny bit larger than usual, but never, ever the size of the full moon."

Facebook posts "alerted" users at 12:30 a.m., Mars would pass just 34.65 million miles from Earth.

Didn't happen.

One doctored photo on Facebook showing Mars as big as the moon in the sky has been shared more than 557,000 times, NBC News reported, adding Twitter has been buzzing, too.

It all goes back to 2003, when Mars did make its closest approach to Earth in tens of thousands of years, NBC reported.

Using a telescope, Mars looked as close as the moon does with the naked eye on that historic occasion.

Somehow, all that was lost in translation, and the story has gone viral on social networking sites since, NBC said. This year, in fact, the planet isn't all that close in its orbit; the next close encounter comes next summer.

All this is a bit amusing and frustrating for Adams, a man of science.

"I laugh a little bit about it, because it does tell me there's a lot of people (who) haven't learned about things," he said. "The frustrating part is that people haven't learned some of the stuff in school.

"I guess the biggest thing, 'OK, I saw it on the Internet,' I need to check my sources," said Adams, who even had a student one time want to talk about it as fact in class.

"Outrageous claims require outrageous amounts of evidence. This is in that category."