President’s Message, September 2015
by Ron Hranac, DAS President
Although most of us are not professional scientists, what we amateur astronomers do still rests solidly on the accuracy of scientific facts and logical reasoning. When we deal with the general public, though, we’re occasionally confronted with the unscientific side of things.
As I write this month’s President’s Message, the annual “Mars Spectacular” hoax is making its rounds via the Internet: The claim is that Mars will appear as big as the full Moon in our night sky. That’s clearly nonsense, but when the hoax surfaces every year, I get asked about it anyway. This year was no exception. The origin of the hoax is the August 27, 2003, Mars opposition, when the red planet was unusually near to Earth. Even during that close approach, Mars still looked like an orange “dot” to the unaided eye—but when viewed through a telescope, at a moderate magnification of 75X, it would appear about the size of the naked-eye full Moon. (I enjoyed observing Mars around the time of the ’03 opposition, although I don’t recall its appearance in the eyepiece being as big as the Moon.) What the hoax leaves out, of course, ...