Top Story: August 27, 2010

The Mars Hoax, Big Solar, More

Mars_Hubble

The Mars Hoax, Solar Thermal, Caterpillar Munching and more: here are a few cool headlines you may have missed this week.

August 27th – Big Mars Day

Despite what you may have heard, or read, Mars will not be bigger than the Moon in the sky tonight. It hasn’t ever been, nor will it ever be. In fact, tonight Mars will be about as far as it can get from Earth—195 million miles away.

It all started on August, 27, 2003 when Mars was very close, about 34 million miles from us, the closest in 60,000 years. But even then, it was still smaller than the Moon. From NASA:

At the height of the display, Mars was about 75 times smaller than the full Moon.

That's when "the virus" was born.

Someone, somewhere, reasoned as follows: If Mars is 75 times smaller than the Moon, then magnifying it 75 times should make it equal to the Moon… "At a modest 75 times magnification," the [email] message stated, "Mars will look as big as the full Moon to the naked eye."

The email was altered and forwarded and continues to surface every August 27th. Will the hoax ever die? From Universe Today:

I wasn't going to write an article about the Mars-Moon Hoax this year because I thought it was too passé, but I just looked at some stats and saw that our article on the topic from 2007, "Will Mars Look as Big as the Full Moon On August 27? Nope" has gotten over 50,000 hits the past few days…

Big Solar

Wednesday, the California Energy Commission approved the Beacon Solar Energy Project, which would be “the largest solar power plant in the world” [New York Times]. It will be built on the edge of the Mojave Desert, covering over 2,000 acres, and when it’s operational-- hopefully by the end of next year-- it should be producing 250 megawatts of energy.

This isn’t your standard solar, according to “80beats” in Discover:

Beacon is solar thermal: Rather than converting sunlight to electricity through photovoltaic cells, solar thermal projects use mirrors to concentrate the heat of the sun, creating steam to turn turbines.

As we wrote Tuesday, Go, Solar!

Caterpillar Munching Trouble and Lizard Live Births

We’re running out of room, but we can’t leave out these two awesome evolution stories!

An article published in Science today describes tobacco plants that have evolved to release chemicals when caterpillars chew on the leaves. The chemicals call out to caterpillar predators. Booby-trapped! Read more in New Scientist.

Also reported in New Scientist: Skinks, a type of lizard, are in the middle of evolving from egg laying to live births. Check it out!

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