Mars may often be touted as our nearest neighboring planet, yet Venus actually comes closer on average according to a model published in Physics Today.
Scientists used a mathematical technique that accounts for time by measuring the distances between multiple points on each planet’s orbit. They ran their simulation for 10,000 years to get accurate results.
Venus, one of four terrestrial planets (Mars, Earth and Venus), is often referred to as our “twin planet.” Having almost identical diameter to Earth makes Venus second closest to our Sun in terms of distance travelled; yet while they share similarities in size they differ greatly when it comes to climates and landscapes.
Venus is a harsh environment with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere filled with stinky clouds reeking of rotten eggs – not exactly an inviting place for humans to spend much time! That may explain why most people consider Venus the closest planet on average.
However, once we examine how astronomers calculate distances between planets more closely, this conclusion becomes less certain. A team of researchers recently noted in Physics Today that our current methods for determining which planet is closer do not take into account all the times when each pair may come closest or farthest apart.
Scientists typically calculate the average distance between planets by subtracting each planet’s orbital distance from that of the Sun, giving Venus the appearance of being our nearest neighbor; on average, Venus lies only slightly further from us than us; but that only works over part of their respective orbits, since each has their own pace of travel around it and spends significant periods opposite one another in their orbits.
A more accurate method is to measure the average distance between a planet’s perihelion (closest point) and its aphelion (furthest point). Here, Mercury actually serves as our closest planet on average due to spending slightly less time opposite of Venus on average. This result can also apply to pairs of planets orbiting coplanarly around each other – something with which our understanding of other systems of planetary bodies could benefit.
Romans honored Mercury, their messenger god, with the honor of naming their smallest planet after him – and its reputation. Mercury orbits around our Sun faster than any other world in our Solar System and lies closest to it than any other. Additionally, its orbit has the shortest radius and surface area among any other.
However, most people incorrectly assume Venus is closest to Earth due to a flawed method for calculating proximity according to a commentary published this week in Physics Today. Scientists Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe and Samuel Cordner explain that our method – subtracting average distances between planets – does not take account of how time has changed since our system first was put in place. The authors developed a new mathematical technique called the point-circle method, which takes into account changes over time in distances between multiple points on different planets’ orbits. They found that when using this approach, Mercury consistently maintains the lowest average distance to Earth even when Venus is nearby. Furthermore, the authors conducted simulations over thousands of years and observed that Mercury is consistently closest to all planets in our Solar System including Saturn and Neptune.
As they move in their elliptical orbits, the distance between each planet and Earth varies regularly. Planets closer to the Sun orbit more quickly, meaning that they spend more time close to us than far away – Venus often comes closer than Mars but isn’t always our nearest neighbor due to long periods of being out of range of our sight.
Venus has a toxic atmosphere of carbon dioxide and smog, crushing air pressure at its surface (9 times that of Earth) and temperatures hot enough to melt lead, making it one of the harshest planets around despite being home only to insects – yet many consider it our nearest neighbor for unknown reasons. Astrology could hold some answers.
Venus has long been considered Earth’s closest planet, but new research indicates otherwise. To conduct their investigation, scientists ran simulations for thousands of simulated years on every planet in our solar system and measured how close they came at various points in time to one another – this revealed that while Venus does sometimes come close, on average Mercury actually provides greater proximity.
Live Science points out a caveat to this finding; distance between planets depends on when they reach their closest and farthest points from the Sun – known as their perihelion and aphelion points respectively, and can have an impactful on overall distance between planets. To account for this factor, researchers discovered they needed to subtract average distance of each planet from these points before dividing by total times it had passed these points in its orbit for an accurate measure of average distance between any two planets.
By employing this method, researchers discovered that Mars was on average the closest planet to our home world, followed by Venus and Mercury. However, it should be kept in mind that Mars can approach very close at times such as its aphelion or Venus at its perihelion – this occurs because all planets in our solar system have elliptical orbits which make their movements around the Sun variable at different speeds throughout each cycle.
Mars is a rocky planet composed of iron, nickel and sulfur that’s covered with a dense mantle layer. Known for its extreme cold winters and short yet warm summers caused by its tilted axis in relation to the Sun, this Red Planet is famous for being known as “The Red Planet.”
Mars’ atmosphere is comprised of carbon dioxide and nitrogen – this means its surface is dry with temperatures ranging from minus 100 in winter to 20 in summer – plus, its gravity field is very weak: you can jump 3x higher there than on Earth!
The Moon is Earth’s sole natural satellite and the fifth-largest celestial body in our solar system. It stands out as being the only spherical object orbiting an Earth-bound planet, as well as being among our inner rings’ smaller moons. Its distinctive shape results from gravity pulling all its mass toward its center of orbit – this makes it one of the solar system’s most massive objects with an outstanding ratio between mass to size.
Questioning which planet is closer to Earth may seem simple enough at first, but its exact answer depends on how distance is calculated between two planets. Astronomy websites such as The Planets often use an equation which compares average radiuses of inner and outer orbits of each planet to find the shortest distance between them – using this approach, Venus would appear to be closer than any other celestial body in terms of proximity to our own world.
Engineers Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe and Samuel Cordner recently published a commentary for Physics Today that proposes an alternative way of measuring planet distance. Their method uses multiple points along each planet’s orbit with time taken into consideration as an element. Their results demonstrated that Mercury is actually closer than Venus to all planets in our solar system including Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – even Venus!
The team’s approach isn’t the only way to measure distance between planets, but it offers an intriguing alternative to the standard calculations found on most astronomy websites. Their calculations have been reviewed by other experts, and are working toward publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. They hope their work may lead to reevaluation of which planet is closest to Earth, though, for now we can enjoy gazing upon our beautiful Moon!