I’ve had several emails, in the last two weeks or so, asking when Mars is going to appear the size of the Full Moon this August. I was going to post something up about this, however it seems Phil has been asked about it too. So I’ll leave the Bad Astronomer himself to debunk it, but in short this is absolutely not true and will not happen. It’s an email/Internet hoax that has been going around the Internet for the last few years. Unfortunately it seems to rear its ugly head every August.
Mars’s mean distance from the Earth is about 225 million kilometres meaning that even through a powerful amateur telescope it will only appear as a disc showing (at best) the polar ice caps and a few dark surface markings. At the moment Mars is not well placed for viewing as it’s far too close to the Sun (as seen from Earth). As the Earth and Mars travel through their orbits around the Sun, the distance between the two planets changes dramatically. So some years Mars does come closer to us and telescopic views do show it much better at these times than others. Yet even at its closest (56 million km) it only appears with the naked eye as a bright ‘star’ with a ruddy tint, certainly nothing like the diameter of the Moon which is a mere 380,000 km from Earth.
Anyway on to much more sensible things – like a reminder of the talks I will be giving in the next few weeks! On the 2nd September I will be talking at the Wiltshire Astronomical Society, details are here. So if you are in the region come along and say hello. I will be giving my talk on the science behind Hubble’s greatest images entitled “Not just pretty pictures”. Then on Saturday 6th September I will be giving a lecture (starting at 2:45 pm) at the 2008 Herstmonceux Astronomy Festival, again with the my talk on the science in Hubble’s images. You can find out about the festival here as well as information on the main Saturday lectures here.
Finally then a bit of random book news. Yesterday I finished editing the manuscript and tomorrow will be sending off my final draft of the book to the publisher’s in New York. It’s quite exciting for me, as the next time I see it it will probably be in the form of the galley proofs. Lastly (I mean it this time) If you’re in the shops this week the new issue of Sky At Night magazine is out. You can read my cover feature on “The Next Supernova”, to see which Milky Way star astronomers think might be next to go supernova.