KACST Dismisses ‘2 Full Moons’ Story

The King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) has warned against a hoax e-mail claiming that Mars will look as large as the moon to the naked eye on Aug. 27 and that it will be as if there are “two full moons in the sky.”

“It is misleading news… There is no astronomical event to occur as claimed. Rather, a full lunar eclipse will take place on Aug. 28,” said Dr. Zaki Mustafa, head of KACST’s Astronomy Department.

“A lunar eclipse is next on the menu for astronomers when on Aug. 28, the moon will pass through Earth’s shadow,” he said, adding that information disseminated on the Internet about the visibility of the moon in two distinct parts is totally untrue and misleading.

Arab News contacted astronomers at KACST when it received some 17 similar e-mails on the subject this week.

Speaking about the authenticity of the e-mail, Dr. Mustafa said: “This is not true and people should not believe it. Back in 2003, Mars did have a close encounter with Earth when it came within 35 million miles. It was much brighter, and appeared about six times larger than it normally does, but it was still just a dot in the sky to the naked eye.”

He added, “Recently, several scientists, astronomers and newsmen in Saudi Arabia received thousands of e-mails containing incorrect information about Mars… We have already issued a statement and asked the general public to refrain from such false propaganda.”

Dr. Mustafa said that Mars and Earth pass by one another every 26 months. On Aug. 27, 2003, the distance between the two planets was near a historic minimum — 34,646,418 miles. Because of the elliptical nature of the orbits of both planets, “close encounters” between the two planets are never quite the same. For example, the most recent Martian close approach took place on Oct. 30, 2005. At that time the minimum separation was just over 43 million miles.

Mars is a small rocky body once thought to be very earth-like. Like other terrestrial planets — Mercury, Venus and Earth — volcanism, impacts from other bodies, movement of its crust and atmospheric effects such as dust storms have changed its surface. It has polar ice caps that grow and recede with the change of seasons. Areas of layered soils near the Martian poles suggest that the planet’s climate has changed more than once, perhaps caused by a regular change in the orbit.

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