Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two Moons, Hoaxes and Eclipses

Taken on August 27, 2007 from my front yard

Planet Mars is coming closer to the earth and will be the brightest planet in our night sky starting in August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. It will maximize on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again.

Did anyone else receive this email? I have to admit I did not immediately recognize it as a hoax that has been circulating for a few years now. I usually spot an urban legend quickly, but my knowledge of astronomy is limited to identifying the sun and moon, the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt. The last sentence should have caused bells to ring in my mind, but I did get suspicious eventually and looked up more information on the story before August 27th.

We are inundated with information every day from many sources. In an age of instant information, news is sometimes posted before all the facts are known. Conflicting reports abound, nowhere more than in the field of health. What is good for you one year may be deadly for you next year (Vitamin E supplements for example).

I once printed a number of stories and pictures from Snopes, some true and some false, and let the 10 and 11 year olds in my Sunday School class analyze them. The children had to decide which were true and which were hoaxes. It was a very difficult exercise, and they made many errors. They did not have enough knowledge on a variety of subjects to make an accurate judgement. Being misled by a story about "two moons" is not a big issue, but misinformation on more important issues can lead to poor decisions. Advertisers often rely on a gullible audience who are drawn to attractive claims that may or may not be substantiated.

August 27, 2007

It does not take an expert to recognize that the two moons were caused by taking a picture with a wobbly tripod. There was one full moon in the sky and no sign of Mars in the glare of city lights.
I did read the truth about the total eclipse of the moon that took place between 5 AM and 6 AM in our time zone on August 28th. I got up at 5:15 AM and watched through my kitchen window as the moon disappeared behind the shadow of the earth. Dawn arrived so I did not see the emerging moon as the shadow passed. In ancient cultures, eclipses brought fear because people did not understand what was happening. Our knowledge of the solar system eliminates fear, but with all our knowledge we are still open to deception.
We need to become media sceptics and teach our children to be critical thinkers. Theories are not facts, scientific studies can be poorly designed and there is always a bias to news reporting.

Lunar Eclipse August 28, 2007

One day Chicken Little was walking in the woods when --KERPLUNK -- an acorn fell on her head "Oh my goodness!"said Chicken Little. "The sky is falling! I must go and tell the king.

Do you remember the ending to this story?


  1. How true! And I, too have many pictures of our two moons--trying to get beautiful sunsets on a slow shutter speed, no tripod.

  2. I pretty much consider most of my e-mails to be a hoax and delete them quickly. Once in a while I go to to confirm my suspicions.

    Good post. I don't remember the end of the story...

  3. I remember that Mars story from last summer and finding out it was a hoax. I was amazed when it showed up in my e-mail box again this summer.
    It's unfortunate so much of these types of false stories are going around--especially when so many people believe what they read on the internet....
    I'm skeptical of all stories anymore--except for what I read in blogs! ;-)

  4. I'm amazed at how much people are taken in by advertising and media ... way more than ever realized! To teach critical thinking is very important. As for common sense ... my husband and I wonder where it has gone.

  5. Nina- I am hopeless with slow shutter speeds, even when I use a tripod. But I don't often have an excuse to use a bad picture in a post.

    Mary- I haven't seen the site Chicken Little gathers a group of friends who believe her story, and on the way to see the king, Foxy-loxy tricks them into his den where he eats them up. I have read some gentler endings as well.

    RuthieJ- I was going to say that I believe what I read in the blogs I read more than in the general media. Email is getting to be more a more of a pain! from spam to stupid stories its abusers build.

    CS- Common sense is certainly lacking woth some people. But then, what is outrageous and stupid makes the news more than the sensible actions of most people.

  6. I am out of the hoax loop--as your post is the FIRST I have heard of this double lunar event!
    I love SNOPES-and use it frequently when people tell me "did you know. . ."

  7. I missed the Eclipse and just couldn't drag myself out of bed to see it! Ya, I have taken two moon pictures yesterday! it's what I get when I try to free hand my moon shots!

  8. I scratch my head on considering what drives people to create hoaxes in the first place. I never did like 'practical jokes' - always seemed mean-spirited to me.

    I guess this is the one area where I'm protected. My kid is an astronomer. Sometimes I think his scientific training has made him a bit too skeptical.

    I'm like Monarch - too danged lazy to get out of bed. I'm glad you youngn's enjoyed the show and managed a nice photograph.

  9. I was just thinking that I wish that I had read your post earlier before I realized you were posting a hoax.

  10. KGMom- I know a few people who love to forward messages like these. So my mailbox always has something for me to analyze.

    Monarch- There will more eclipses to watch. The next is in February I think. But it may be cloudy then.

    Cathy- An astronomer in the family.. how interesting. I think those of us who live in the city have lost touch with the stars. Me, a young 'un? My daughter is rolling on the floor in laughter. She is the one who stays in bed til noon on the weekends.

    Larry- Don't tell me you looked for the two moons! ;-)

  11. I didn't believe what was writen, but thought that there might be an astronomical event worth watching!


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