Saturday, August 28, 2010

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

According to a recent e-mail I received, the planet Mars—the fourth rock from the sun—was supposed to be so close to Earth yesterday evening that it would appear as big as the moon in the night sky. This would have been quite something to behold, a fellow planet as colossal to our naked eyes as Earth's faithful hanger-on, the moon. The missive further elaborated that Mars's orbit would not bring it this close to our prying eyes—here on the third rock from the sun—until 2287. In other words: We could ill afford to miss this dramatic and uber-rare celestial moment.

While getting such an intimate peep at a fellow terrestrial planet would be a stargazer's orgasm unlike any other, a moon-sized Mars in the night sky would really portend only one thing: We are doomed! And don't bother heading for the wine cellar or bomb shelter. The sun must be in the process of imploding billions of years earlier than scientists had anticipated, and our solar system no longer so systematic. Forget about hiding under the bed, completing that bucket list, and employing the seven steps of forgiveness for those who trespassed against you. In fact: If the red planet, as Mars is known because of its distinguishing iron-rich hue, is this close to planet Earth—cast your fate to the solar wind and be done with it.

Happily, this Mars does the moon scenario was just another compelling Internet hoax that wormed its way through the virtual ether. And, as with all good hoaxes, many gullible sorts bought hook, line, and sinker this celestial fib of epic proportions. Of course, it would be nice to see the Man in the Moon share center stage with Mars among the cosmic players of the night, but not if it means our species is toast.

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