I woke up this morning to find in my email inbox a scan of a document titled "Miureekhah Hulhagun Iru Araifi" (translated: "The Sun rose from the West in Mars"), authored by someone operating under the name of "Abu Osama" and bearing the stamp of approval by the Islaamee Kathakaa Behey Mathee Majlis (pages 1 2 3
). I assumed that it was just a chain-mail doing the rounds and went off to run a few errands only to return in the evening to find yet another email in my inbox - this time from a close buddy who had spotted the (same!) article appearing in today's issue of Haveeru Daily (view clipping
). It was then that I realized that the document I read earlier was a serious piece of literature produced by someone, or some religious entity, as part of organised religious evangelism.
The document was shock full of factual errors and scientific errors that I just had to take it seriously - especially since these very "errors" acted as the basis for their evangelical argument. Could they have been so scientifically illiterate?! This whole story of the Sun rising from the West and the supposed evidence for it by events on Mars is just ludicrous. I'd laugh my belly off if I weren't so worried about the sheer lack of scientific understanding and the lack of skepticism. Anyway, I'd like to go over the document in question and set the science straight...
Claims in the document
The basic claim in the "Miureekhah Hulhagun Iru Araifi" article is that  the planet Mars had slowed down in its trek around the Sun,  came to a complete stop on 30th July 2005 and then  resumed its trek around the sun -  in the opposite direction -  in August/September 2005. The document attributes these observations to "Retrograde motion". The document also claims that  this encounter meant that the Sun had started to rise from the West on Mars instead of the usual East. It further claims that  the same would happen to Earth someday. They then interject a Hadith that claims the Sun rising from the West as being a sign that the end is near and that once it happens no one could repent or achieve salvation. The document also claims, on the authority of religious scholars, that  the Sun would rise in the West on Earth once only - for one day only - and things would continue as normal thereafter.
The document then uses these claims as a premise to attempt validate, justify and promote a number of Hadith regarding the end of the world and judgement day to call upon people to stay steadfast to Islam, to repent and to call upon non-believers to the faith.
The document then gives an invalid URL to an article on space.com in an attempt to create a smokesreen to make it look more credible.
Analysis and Explanations
It is important to note that the article presents an incorrect definition of what a "Retrograde
" really is. A planetary body is in retrograde motion when it moves in a direction dissimilar, i.e. opposite, to another planetary body within a system. The problem at hand deals with a specific type of retrograde motion that occurs when the motion of planets is viewed relative to the Earth - known as an Apparent Retrograde - and is applicable to all planets that lie beyond Earth in the Solar System: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Perhaps the best way to understand and help imagine the interactions betweens the planets involved in retrogrades is to watch the simulation available here
. Run the simulation on that page and watch carefully how the movement of Earth and Mars in their own elliptical paths results in changes in what we see in the sky - with such amazing things as Mars apparently slowing down, stopping entirely, changing direction and then resuming as normal. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I tell you, this simulation is invaluable. It is important to recognize that these "Mars retrograde" events are cyclical events that occur once every 26 months and has been taking place since before the earliest humans.
- The article's false claim  thus acquires a whole new meaning - it is the apparent behaviour of Mars that we see that is actually slowing down and not Mars itself.
- The dates given in claims  and  are false - in the 2003 Mars retrograde
, Mars reached the first stationary point on 30th July, went through the loop back and reversed direction after reaching the stationary point on 29 September. In the 2005 Mars retrograde
, Mars reached the first stationary point around 1 October and went through the loopback till it reached the second stationary point on 10 December and reversed direction again. A nice sketch of the movement of Mars, including the key dates, for both these years is available here
- As said before, even during a retrograde, despite how we perceive it, Mars never actually stops or moves in any special way other than its usual motion along the elliptic orbit around the sun - thus claims ,  and  are false if taken in the literal sense.
- Since Mars never budges from its usual orbit path nor its usual rotation direction, unlike as claimed in , there never is even a moment of time that the Sun rises from the West in Mars. The Martian sunrise and sunsets continue as they have been doing for the billions of years it has been in existence.
- The article quite correctly quotes scientists as saying that the retrograde happens for all planets. But the quote is placed out of context amongst the article's drive toward making it seem that Mars switched directions and had the Sun rise from its West. Truth of the matter is that scientists are actually referring to the planets other than Mars that are also affected by Apparent Retrogrades - ie Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - and does not include Earth in it. However, since Apparent Retrogrades depend on the position of the viewer, Earth would also be subject to the sort of retrograde illusions as Mars if we were to observe things from Venus or Mercury and there'd come a time every year when Earth retrogrades and the entire Earth would seem to wobble a bit as it scurries backward and then forward again. But when talking with respect to Earth, claims  and  just fall flat.
It is worth noting that one of the main tasks of the article seems to be to suggest that this is a one off event that demands our immediate attention. However, this seems absurd a suggestion given that Mars retrogrades are cyclical events that have even been documented carefully by ancient Greeks and the Mayans and that a good part of humanity has known, predicted and observed it for centuries. What more, we are currently right in the middle of such a retrograde
- Mars reached its first stationary point on 15 November 2007 and has been trekking through the loopback all of December and will continue to do so for the entire January till it reaches its second stationary point on 30 January 2008.
Scientifically, there's absolutely no reason to think that Earth will change its direction of rotation or direction of orbit around the sun - hence the direction of the Sun rise - EVER! The angular momentum of earth's current spin would keep the Earth turning the way it does now until opposing forces slow it down to a complete standstill - which happens to be millions of years away. The only scenario where the Earth MIGHT change its direction of rotation is if a there is a collision with a very (very!!) large foreign object such as a very large meteor and that too only under particular conditions that depend heavily on the location of impact and speed of the object - but this act would almost certainly wipe out every single living thing on Earth and so there'd be no point to this issue of Sun rising from West. Another occasion that might allow for the Sun to rise from West - if all you have is a compass - is if the Earth flips the polarity of its magnetic field. The Earth could and IS presently slowly changing its magnetic polarization
- so if/when a polarity flip occurs, what is currently shown as "West" on a magnetic compass would then register as "East". But the cardinal directions
are NOT defined by the Earth's magnetic field and the Sun would still continue to rise from the same direction it has always risen - the only thing that would have then changed would probably be the compasses to make up for the switch in pole polarity.
I hope the above deconstructs the myth/hoax published in Haveeru and popularised in Male'. It is sad to see that people, especially with the blessings of the Islaamee Kanthakaa Behey Mathee Majlis, engage in fear-mongering and scare tactics to psychologically intimidate people into religion. Surely there are more honest means than this?
Mars has been the subject of many other hoaxes recently
and it seems to be able to consistently dupe a lot of people. It is easy to be duped and had for unless one practices healthy skepticism and read up. Meanwhile, go out and have a look at Mars shining bright in the sky - that's what I was doing with a telescope during the 2003 Mars retrograde when the red planet was supposed to be the closest to Earth it will be for years and years to come...
PS: By all means, feel free to send this article to your friends who've been taken in by the hoax.
Time lapse photograph of Mars in retrograde in 2005
Credit & Copyright: Tunc Tezel
It seems the exact same hoax article was also disseminated by the Maldivian Islamic political party Adaalath Party on on their website