August 27, 2009: Red Planet is about to be spectacular?
In recent weeks you probably got an email with a content that reads something like this:
"The Red Planet is about to be spectacular. Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. No one alive today will ever see this again. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again. The encounter will culminate on August 27th, at 12:30 AM, when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.
Well, not so fast...
People were victims of the Mars Hoax – where Mars will become as big as the full moon. This rumor has been going around since 2003. Here is what NASA wrote on its website on July 7, 2005:
"Just when you thought it was safe to read your email.... There's a rumor about Mars going around the internet. Here are some snippets from a widely-circulated email message: "The Red Planet is about to be spectacular." "Earth is catching up with Mars [for] the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history." "On August 27th … Mars will look as large as the full moon." And finally, "NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN."
Only the first sentence is true -- The Red Planet is about to be spectacular -- NASA says, the "rest is a hoax".
Here are the NASA facts: "Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter this year on October 30th  at 0319 Universal Time. Distance: 69 million kilometers. To the unaided eye, Mars will look like a bright red star, a pinprick of light, certainly not as wide as the full Moon."
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Therefore, the main event on August 27 is going to be the anniversary of independence of the Republic of Moldova from the Soviet Union, an event that took place in 1991. Nothing more... By the way, the article about Moldova's Independence Day is worth reading if you love European history.