Five Things About Viewing Mars in August

Jane Houston Jones
Jane Houston Jones

Updated Aug. 26, 2010

If you’re like me, you may have received an e-mail this summer telling you to go outside on August 27 and look up in the sky. The e-mail, most likely forwarded to you by a friend or relative, promises that Mars will look as big as the moon on that date and that no one will ever see this view again. Hmmm, it looks like the same e-mail I received last summer and the summer before that, too. In fact this same e-mail has been circulating since 2003, but with a few important omissions from the original announcement.

I’m Jane Jones, an amateur astronomer and outreach specialist for the Cassini mission at Saturn, and I’m here to set the record straight on when and how you can actually see Mars this month.

1. How did the “Mars in August” e-mail get started in the first place?

In 2003, when Mars neared opposition — its closest approach to Earth in its 22-month orbit around the sun — it was less than 56 million kilometers (less than 35 million miles) away. This was the closest it had been in over 50,000 years. The e-mail that circulated back then said that Mars, when viewed through a telescope magnified 75 times, would look as large as the moon does with the unaided eye. Even back in 2003, to the unaided eye, Mars looked like a reddish star in the sky to our eyes, and through a backyard telescope it looked like a small disc with some dark markings and maybe a hint of its polar ice cap. Without magnification, it never looked as large as the moon, even back in 2003!

August 2010 sky map

2. Can the moon and Mars ever look the same size?

No. The moon is one-quarter the size of Earth and is relatively close — only about 384,000 kilometers (about 239, 000 miles) away. On the other hand, Mars is one-half the size of Earth and it orbits the sun 1-1/2 times farther out than Earth’s orbit. The closest it ever gets to Earth is at opposition every 26 months. The last Mars opposition was in January and the next one is in March 2011.

At opposition, Mars will be 101 million kilometers (63 million miles) from Earth, almost twice as far as in 2003. So from that distance, Mars could never look the same as our moon.

3. Is Mars visible in August 2010?

Mars and Saturn made a dramatic trio with brighter Venus this month. Skywatchers enjoyed seeing the three planets closely gathered on the 12th and 13th with the slender crescent moon nearby. On the 27th, you’ll see Venus shining brightly in the west. If you look above Venus, you may find faint Mars. Saturn is barely visible above the horizon, getting ready for its solar conjunction next month.

4. Can I see Mars and the moon at the same time this month?

Both the moon and Mars were next to one another on the 12th and 13th, but now you can see both planets a few hours apart. Look for Mars in the west at sunset, and watch the moon rise in the east a few hours later. On August 26th and 27th you can see the nearly full moon rising in the east at about 10 p.m. The bright planet below the moon on the 26th is Jupiter! On the 27th, the moon is to the left of the planet.

5. Will the “Mars in August” e-mail return next year?

Most certainly! But next year, you’ll be armed with facts, and perhaps you will have looked at the red planet for yourself and will know what to expect. And you will know exactly where to put that email. In the trash!

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    44 Responses to “Five Things About Viewing Mars in August”

  1. Leanne Says:
    August 11th, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you! Now that the word NASA is in the web adress, hopefully my in-laws will finally believe me. :)

  2. Dale Nartker Says:
    August 11th, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Jane,
    Thanks for addressing this ridiculous email hoax. I teach an outreach program here where I live in Preston ID and get approached with this question all the time. I had the rare privilege of viewing Mars on Aug 29 2003 through the Lowell refractor and was honored to see Mars up close like that; even saw Valles Marinaris and Solis Lacus and a few other craters with my own eye. Then and only then was it as big as a full moon or more through the telescope. Thanks for setting the record straight!

    Dale

  3. Ardelean Marius Says:
    August 11th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    I didin’t received that e-mail but all my friends told me about Mars in August. I have been watching Mars several nights with my telescope and just like the article says it’s impossible to see Mars as big as the Moon.

  4. Fernando Says:
    August 12th, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Thank you so much for posting this! Mind if I translate to spanish and post in my blog?

    Jones says:

    Yes, please do!

  5. Dave Says:
    August 12th, 2009 at 8:43 am

    I’m the “local astronomer” in my workplace and I’ve had to deal with breathless, clueless people asking about this for the last 6 years. In each case I have to explain that it’s not 2003 anymore and that Mars is not going to be “as big as the moon” this August or any other time. Truly, I feel your pain.

  6. Paul Mallinson Says:
    August 15th, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Jane, thanks for your comments.

    Just one point ‘though. I don’t think any claim was made that Mars would look as big as the moon without a telescope. I think the comment made was that through a telescope, at some magnification, Mars could look as big as the moon (if the moon was in a convenient place at the time, you would have to open your other eye to compare the two!).

    The comparison would go something like this:
    The moon subtends about one half a degree in the sky - about 30 minutes of arc. If Mars is say 25 seconds of arc big (or 25/60 mins of arc), and the telescope magnification is 75x then multiplying (25/60*75) gives about 31 minutes of arc, which the size of the moon in the sky to the unaided eye!

    Cheers,
    Paul

  7. Mimi W Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I was in rural Wisconsin three nights ago and saw a huge red planet-looking
    image in the lowersky. If it wasn’t Mars, what might it have been?

  8. Melissa Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 10:08 am

    My husband told me that this e-mail is a big lie, and now I’m going to tell everybody what is the true with real facts!

  9. Stephen Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Thanks for your clear and understandable explanation. I thought it would be impossible for mars to look that big but these rumours become so powerful that those who cannot think for themselves will believe anything they hear.

  10. jason zermeno Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Mimi,
    I am sitting here with my planetarium software and I entered you location and date into the program. Without knowing which direction you were looking and assuming that it was in the early evening I would venture to guess that you were either observing the reddish star, Antares, the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius or the planet Jupiter. Antares would have been somewhere in the South-Southwest. At the same time in the East-Southeast you would have been able to see the bright, but not so reddish planet, Jupiter. To the naked eye both of these objects would appear as points of light, the planet Jupiter being quite a bit brighter and not twinkling as the stars do. If neither of these sound right, I’d love to hear more details of your observation.

  11. jason zermeno Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 8:34 am

    While many people in the field/hobby of astronomy talk about how annoying and negative these “hoax” emails are I prefer to look at them as an educational opportunity to correct such misconceptions. The more that people think about the sky and astronomy the better, in my opinion. Maybe they will notice more the fact that they are able to see less and less of the beautiful night sky as light pollution increases!
    Could these controversial hoax messages be perpetuated by a clandestine cabal of concerned cosmologists? ;)

  12. Bonnie Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    I just spent the last hour and a half trying to photograph “mars” with my 10x zoom camera to practice for Aug. 27th - I got some great pics and excitedly opened this site to learn more, only to read that it probably isn’t evenmars that I photographed since it is only midnight! I wonder what I took pictures of ? :-)

  13. Ferdaws Says:
    August 21st, 2009 at 6:12 am

    thanks ,
    i just read in forum that we can see Mars in 27 aug 2009 at same size of moon and i know that most of such information are lie for that i have try to search here
    but can we see it like start in this date??

  14. Roger Aranda Says:
    August 23rd, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Thank you for placing rumors, in the “Fact Bag”
    I Told my friends, to look at the sky this Aug 27 (but told them that it was impossible
    that Mars looked like “two Moons in the Sky” as the Email said)
    Some of them might see Mars for the first time;thanks to this exagerated Notice

  15. John R Says:
    August 23rd, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for posting this to clear things up! I have been looking at the supposed “Mars” for the past couple weeks shortly after sunset in the east/northeast sky (in northern Wisconsin). It is the brightest non-moon object that I can see now and appears to have 4 lesser bodies in line with it. Can anyone please tell me what this is? Thanks!

  16. Doris Armacost Says:
    August 24th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks for the facts. We will have a Mars Party anyway and have fun looking at the sky.

  17. Joyce Shavlik Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Thank you for setting the facts straight. I love hearing about things going on in our heavens but had a hard time believing Mars could look as big as the moon. I now have to tell friends that the email is not true. I had never received that email before so fell for it big time. I’ve been staying up late and getting up early to view it and could not see the change.
    Thanks.
    Joyce Shavlik

  18. don everly Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    weill what is that bright object rising in the early evening? Is is Jupiter?

  19. mandi howett Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    thanks so much i was going to go outside 2night and see if i could see mars i was stocked about being able 2 see mars but now im kinda upset that email came 2 me i have been telling every one i know about seeing mars on 27! i live in barstow and the sky is so beautiful at night you can see everything i love watching the stars! but thank you very much for the new info. i would have been out side all night trying 2 see if mars would catch my naked eye!

  20. Ann Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Thank you for posting this and clear things up (for me especially). A friend of mine told he saw Mars and that it looked almost as big as the moon….man oh man

  21. Jorge Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Does anybody know if this is in spanish? Some friends in Mexico are getting this hoax email as well and I would love to send them this blog in spanish. I sent them the english version but not all of them speak English.

    Thank you

  22. Hodge Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Dear John R. — It seems that you have been looking at Jupiter, although it should appear in the East Southeast rather than East Northeast. The four objects that you see in line with it were discovered by Galileo when he invented the telescope. They are called the Galilean satellites and are the four largest moons of Jupiter. Their names are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

    Dear Mimi W. — It may seem crazy, but I suspect that the moon-sized red planet that you saw in the lower sky was actually the moon. I haven’t checked star charts to see if it may have been visible that low in the sky, but it is common for the moon to appear orange or red when it is very close to the horizon and the atmospheric conditions are right.

  23. Josie Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Well maybe the “hoax” email wasn’t the exact truth, but this was actually the first we’d heard of it and it did make us go out tonight and look at the sky. We did look for the (2nd) brightest object, and although it wasn’t visible with the naked eye (as the moon is), we did grab the binoculars and my children got to “see” a planet for the first time.

    Maybe it’s been there before and maybe it’ll be again, but the positive spin on this email is that it did get our attention, Mars was viewable, and my children got to see it! So to say it’s a hoax is saying that it wasn’t Mars we saw through the binoculars……..

    You have to remember there are always newcomers, so maybe saying the facts aren’t entirely true as opposed to saying the entire email is a hoax is reporting the facts a little clearer, which obviously is what should have been done in the first place. Good thing we don’t always believe everything we read.

  24. pamela Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you for this article! Forwarding this to the person that posted about seeing the moon’s double effect (mars) on Facebook!… I”m going to be honest and say that I went outside with my camera in hand to take a picture of this … but I didnt see anything LOL

  25. Jose Says:
    August 30th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    As big as the Moon… wwwright… Now we know: when we draw those Solar System maps for our children, we have to add a note “Not to scale”. Mars is next in orbit from the Sun, but heck it´s F-A-R away from here.

    When those distance numbers are given, we may fall in the “price 49,99″ trick. Knowing it´s almost 50 bucks, the not-thought mental concept is of a lower quantity dealing with the 40s and not the 50s. We tend to ‘take’ the first two digits. 56,000,000 kilometers compared to 384,000 kilometers has a similar effect: We know it´s several millions against some hundred thousands, but the quick not-thought concept compares a 56 to a 38. Yeah, more, but not by that much. Maybe it´d be a good thing adding the “X Times farther away” text?

    “146 times (that is, one hundred and forty six times) farther away from Earth than the Moon is; and that on its closest position since the human being started walking straight. An object twice as big as the Moon is, but still almost 150 times farther away. Take a Smart car and place it 100 meters away, by the end of the street; then a three times bigger Hummer and place it 14,6 kilometers away, by the gates of next town. You get the picture, right?”

  26. Bill Bartmann Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    This site rocks!

  27. Alexandra G. Says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Thank you for this great post Jane.
    We were in Spain with my family last week of august not knowing anything about this email/hoax and on the 27th, the moon turned like orange and changed position incredibly fast. At 9pm she was south and at 11pm west and disapeared behing a bulding in a few minutes (sorry for my non-professional vocabulary… I know the moon didnt move but the earth did, I just dont know how to write it down ;-) Anyway it was really strange. We heard “the moon is a red head, it will be cold tomorrow”, “the moon is low” anyway we check on internet the next day and my brother came back saying it was Mars. Then than no, it was the night of the 2 moons.
    Do you know if something really happened that night or was is just the effect of too much Rioja in our blood?!
    Thanks a lot,
    Alexandra

    Jane Houston Jones says:

    Too much rioja leads to seeing a red moon. ;-)

    Seriously, the moon can appear reddish if there are pollutants in the sky. We see that right now with the clouds from the fire here in Southern California. If there were fires, smoke or volcanic eruptions in Italy the moon could appear red. Also just too much smog will make the moon appear red! Both the sun and the moon appear red. The smoke scatters the shorter wavelengths of light (the blue and red) and leaves the longer wavelengths (yellow and red) for us to see. This causes the pink sunset too!

    Now about the moon changing position very fast, that is impossible, but if you saw the moon, then turned to your friends for a couple hours the moon will have moved about 2 or more moon diameters as the earth rotates. On August 27th you would see the moon at its first quarter phase, when it looks like a “half of a moon”. In the course of 2 hours you would have seen the distant moon “move” a little especially if there was a nearby building that obscured the view.

    Nothing unusual happened – you just observed the reddish colored moon as it was setting behind a building while enjoying your time in Spain. Jane

  28. Billie Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks for the info. I’m new at looking at the sky at night, have enjoyed the Moon ever so much but was one of the “silly” ones looking for Mars. I’ll keep on looking and watching, even though I probably won’t know what I’m seeing, other then the moon.

  29. CATHY Says:
    September 14th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I HAVE ARTICLE SAYING MARS WILL BE CLOSEST TO EARTH ON OCT 29TH?? SO IS THAT FOR THIS YEAR - 2009 - OR IS THAT ALSO A 2003 POSTING???

  30. Nuriya, Uzbekistan Says:
    September 20th, 2009 at 8:30 am

    All Mars stuff is from 2003 and no longer valid. Next time we will be able to see Mars is in 2018 or so.

  31. DIAMOND Says:
    November 23rd, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    i dont remember the exact date but i think it was around 2001 - 2003 time area i was on the way to a friends house one night with 3 other friends with me and i just happen to look to the north east and the mood was looking pretty full but did’t compare to the big red one behind it. when i saw it i was like what the heck is that. It was bigger than our moon and a redish orangeish color. I still dont know what we saw, but i know we saw it. True story.

  32. Elizabeth G Says:
    June 24th, 2010 at 11:09 am

    This is so amazing and intersesting!!!!!

  33. DeAuna Frey Says:
    June 25th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing this info..LOL you just saved me from having to drag my girl scout troop out in late August in the Texas heat! You’re a life saver!

  34. Pieterz Says:
    July 17th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I have often wondered what kind of people send out these hoax e-mails. I now know. It’s the same kind of people that wrote the bible stories. Lo and behold, millions believe the stories.

  35. jeffrey abbott Says:
    July 25th, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I have got the theory about all the macro and micro haveing most traits very , very simular

  36. Mike Vandebeld Says:
    August 25th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on direction..(and Venus…)…and I figure that if you are ignorant enough to think, that Mars’ll be as big as the moon..like one fellow said..check your orbital mechanics!…and .don’t worry ’bout it cuz’ Jesus and the Mayans are havin a party in 2012……

  37. Kevin Says:
    August 27th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    In my opinion, if one day you can see Mars as big as the moon with unaided eyes, well you’ll have a big reason to worry!

  38. John Says:
    August 28th, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I think this rumor spreads so easily because people gloss over details and are accustomed to a lot of exaggeration. Sure mars will look as big as the moon, why not. Like a pie in the sky. My family spread this rumor to me and so I went outside and almost immediately spotted what must be Jupiter. It was worthwhile, mars or no, but tough to break it to them that they’d been had. Thanks for letting us know what we can expect to see in the skies this month - its a nice consolation to “missing out” on an unusually large mars.

  39. Maryam Ebrahimi Says:
    August 28th, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Hi Jane!
    Is this view was able to watch in any point on the earth?
    I in Tehran at 12:30 PM, couldn’t watch 2 moons!
    Just a full! moon behind some clouds that are moving, so sometimes moon was watchable, sometimes not!

    I’ll be glad I set connect to you,
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=100001385655203&v=info

  40. Tony Says:
    August 31st, 2010 at 1:45 am

    I want to know if mars laboratory will be carrying a extreme bacteria to mars to study if it can survives in there. Scientists have discovered bacteria in a hole drilled more than 4000 feet deep in volcanic rock in Hawaii, in an environment that could be very similar to the conditions on Mars and other planets.

  41. Layla Hassan Says:
    November 21st, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I want to know the constellations of November 2010.

  42. Jody Says:
    November 26th, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Can you tell me when Mars will be seen again and whether it can be seen with the naked eye? Thank you!

    Jane Houston Jones responds:

    Mars is visible with binoculars and telescopes in December right now! Look very low to the southwest just after sunset. It is too faint to see with the unaided eye. On December 13th, Mars and Mercury are close to one another. To see these, you need an unobstructed view to the southwest. Notice where the sun sets, and as soon as it sets look about 10 degrees (that’s about one clenched fist-width) left of where the sun set. Look about 10 degrees above the horizon. That’s pretty difficult, but worth trying.

    Mars will not put on a good viewing show in 2011. In February, it passes behind the sun, and out of our view. Things pickup in the fall, when Mars moves closer to its every 2-year opposition — which is in March 2012. It gets bigger (closer to earth) in November and December.

    Jupiter is great to view right now in the early evening, and Saturn graces out sky after midnight. And don’t forget there is a lunar eclipse on the night of December 20th - 21st, depending on where you live:
    Pacific Standard time: 9:55 p.m. To 2:35 am – total eclipse best to view from 11:41 to 12:53am.
    Eastern Standard time: 12:55am on the 21st through 5:35 am. - total eclipse vest to view 2:41am to3:53am

    You can find out more in this month’s What’s Up video.

  43. Momotaj Haque Says:
    April 10th, 2011 at 11:33 am

    i found this informative and interesting blog so i think so its very useful and knowledge able.I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog.

  44. King Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    That really captures the spirit of it. Thanks for ptoinsg.

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