Mars will NOT look as large as the moon tonight

Social media posts go viral claiming Mars will appear as large as the moon


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Posts on social media that have gone viral claim that Mars will appear as large as the moon tonight, that is not true. It is the closest Mars has been to our planet since 2003, but it will still look like the brightest star with an orange hue, not what the social media posts claim.

This is the post that's making the rounds.

In a recent blog post, NASA debunks the social media myth:

"However, don't be fooled by the Mars Hoax! Since 2003, this urban legend gets circulated through email and social media every time Mars makes a close approach.

Mars in the sky

Our red moon will have some company Friday. As an extra gift, Mars will also be at its brightest, accounting for two red lights in the sky.

Mars is reaching its opposition, when it's in alignment on the opposite side of the Earth and the sun. This occurs at the same time that Mars will reach one of its closest points to the Earth, about 35.9 million miles away.

Mars will actually be at its closest approach since 2003 on Monday and Tuesday, at 35.78 million miles away. So if bad weather disrupts your opportunity on Friday, there will be more chances.

Mars' closest approach will be before sunrise on Tuesday at 4 a.m. EST and on Monday at 10 p.m. Hawaiian Time, according to EarthSky.org.

Although it won't look nearly as large as the blood moon, Mars will be its largest in size if you're looking through a telescope and close to its maximum brightness in our sky. Mars is also safe to view with the naked eye.

NASA also explains the differences in the distance between Mars and the Earth:

If Earth and Mars had perfectly circular orbits, their minimum distance would always be the same. However, they have elliptical (egg-shaped) paths. 

In addition, gravitational tugging by planets constantly changes the shape of their orbits a little bit. Giant Jupiter especially influences the orbit of Mars. 

The orbits of Mars and Earth are also slightly tilted with respect to each other. 

All of these factors mean that not all close encounters are equal. In 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years! It won't be that close again until the year 2287.

When Mars and Earth are close to each other, Mars appears very bright in our sky. It also makes it easier to see with telescopes or the naked eye. The Red Planet comes close enough for exceptional viewing only once or twice every 15 or 17 years.

About the Authors: