Today’s big lies on the internet are Mars looming in the sky as big as the full moon and fictitious Wikipedia quotes about French composer Maurice Jarre pinched by papers around the world to use in the obituaries they published on news of his death.

The alarming thing about the Mars hoax is that the public would swallow something that most high school students should pick as being nonsense on reading the first line.

Mike Salway at the Australian astronomy site, IceinSpace.com.au, traces its origins to the 27 August 2003 “opposition” when the Sun, Earth and Mars were perfectly aligned, as they are every two years or so, but more closely than for many thousands of years in terms of the Earth-Mars distance.

That closeness still left Mars as nothing more than a brilliant red planet that rose high in the sky, but was hoaxed at the time as being football sized to the naked eye.

The current hoax claims that this 27 August it “will be as bright as the full moon”, that “it will look like the Earth has two moons” and “NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.”

If Mars ever does appear as large as the moon in our sky you won’t see that either. You will be dead, our species obliterated by a globally catastrophic disruption to the tides and our orbit around the sun, and that of our moon, as the red planet would have to be roughly 800,000 kilometres from Earth rather than 56 million kilometres away.

The Jarre quotes ripped off by the media were faked and posted on Wikipedia by an Irish student as an experiment.

Other high currency internet hoaxes include a giant photo shopped container liner several kilometres long; a series of futuristic American airliners and fighter bombers — which are even less believable than real Boeing and Lockheed Martin press releases about Dreamliners and Joint Strike Fighters; striped candy coloured polar ice cliffs; massive pre World War Two Soviet flying boats; and mountain bike pathways halfway up exaggerated cliffs on the sides of Himalayan peaks.

And of course, a torrent of real media releases from politicians and surviving finance houses about the speed of the economic recovery.

Peter Fray

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