Global mosaic of Mars. Syrtis Major region.
Question: I recently received an email reporting that in late August the planet Mars will be as close to the Earth as it has ever been and will appear the same size in the night sky as the Moon – is this true?
Answer: Unfortunately, this is a hoax email that has appeared around the month of August for several years since about 2005.
In 2006, the Sydney Observatory published an article in their news dispelling this rumour. The Australian Astronomical Society also wrote on the Mars hoax with further scientific information about Mars and its orbit.
It is probably not surprising that as we move through August again this year, the email has started the rounds again – a number of websites around the world are discussing the hoax, such as the Guernsey Astronomical Society, and a quick search of Google returns a number of other websites, either dispelling or encouraging the hoax.
For reliable information about the night sky each month you can check the Melbourne Planetarium's Skynotes – for the month of August 2011, Mars can be found low in the north-east before sunrise. Sitting above the red planet is the red giant star Aldebaran (Taurus) and the red supergiant star Betelgeuse (Orion). On the morning of the 26th the crescent Moon is to the right of Mars. By the end of the month the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, can be found just below Mars.
So you can see Mars in the night sky at the moment and it is quite interesting but, unfortunately, it won't be as spectacular as the hoax email purports!