Beware Friday’s hoax about the moon and Mars. Plus, are you sure you know why Mars is named “Mars?”


There’s an email going around that claims on Friday night, the sky will look as though there are two big moons. Allegedly, Mars will be so large that it will rival Luna (the official name of our lovely moon.) Here’s the problem: this email has been circulating since 2003. In reality, on Friday the red planet will appear approximately 400 times smaller than the moon.

This bogus, spurious, factitious story gives us a reason to launch a mission to explore how Mars got its name. It is well known that Mars is the name for a god of war, but whose god?

It’s possible that Mars started off as a Italian deity associated with fertility, but gradually became identified with the Greek god Ares, the personification not so much of war but of the irrational aspect of violence and bloodshed. Ares’ half-sister, Athena, represented the strategic and rational side. Let’s step back in time and work our way back to the Romans.

(It’s interesting to note that “Tuesday” was once named after Mars. So who is the “Tues” in “Tuesday?” Find out that weird story, here.)

The Babylonians called the fourth planet from the Sun Nergal, after a god of war and fire. The Greeks may have adapted the Babylonian nomenclature, calling the planet both Pyroeis (Greek for fiery), as well as Areos aster, “the star of Ares.”

The association of war, anger, and brightness with the redness of the planet is obvious, but the reason Mars is red may not be. Iron oxide, (think of rust), is present on much of the surface, which creates its ruddy look.

When the Romans conquered the Greeks and many others, they adopted the Greek pantheon but renamed the gods based on Latin and their own culture. The word “Mars” in Old Latin is Mavors and may have some connection to the Sanskrit word maruta, a storm god.

While the “two moons” email is an annoying hoax, we have something to make up for your disappointment: the history of the word “hoax” involves goblins, jugglers, and lots of controversy. Get the true story, here.

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