Claim: The planet Mars will make a once-in-our-lifetimes remarkably close approach to Earth in August.
Mars passed extraordinarily close to Earth in August 2003: True.
Mars will pass extraordinarily close to Earth in August 2005: False.
Mars will pass close to Earth in October 2005: True.
Origins: The piece quoted above is another example of an
item that was once true but is now being circulated again, long after the events it describes have come to pass. This article was relevant back in 2003, but it is not applicable now, two years later.
Mars did make an extraordinarily close approach to Earth which culminated on 27 August 2003, when the red planet came within 35 million miles (or 56 million kilometers) of Earth, its nearest approach to us in almost 60,000 years. At that time, Mars appeared approximately 6 times larger and 85 times brighter in the sky than it does ordinarily. (The message quoted above was often reproduced with an unfortunate line break in the middle of the second sentence of the second paragraph, leaving some readers with the mistaken impression that Mars would "look as large as the full moon to the naked eye" and not realizing that the statement only applied to those using viewing Mars through a scope with 75-power magnification.)
Although Mars' proximity to Earth in August 2003 (referred to as a perihelic opposition) was a rare occurrence, the red planet comes almost as near to us every 15 to 17 years. To the unaided observer, Mars' appearance in August 2003 wasn't significantly larger or brighter than it is during those much more common intervals of closeness.
Mars will have another close encounter with Earth in in 2005, but that occurrence will take place in October (not August), and the red planet will appear about 20% smaller than it did during similar circumstances in 2003.
The Mars phenomenon of 2003 was featured in a couple of articles on the web site Space.com which are still well worth the reading: Mars to Get Closer than Ever in Recorded History in 2003 and Orbital Oddities: Why Mars will be So Close to Earth in August. Interested observers also joined Mars Watch 2003 through the MarsToday.com web site.