When asked which planet is nearest the Earth, people typically reply “Venus.” Although this statement may be accurate in most instances, Venus does not always constitute the closest planet.
New research proves that Mercury is indeed our nearest planet when measured accurately; scientists used an advanced mathematical technique which takes time into account to demonstrate this conclusion.
Mercury is the closest planet to our Sun and one of its smallest members in our Solar System. Known for its rocky surface and iron core, Mercury travels an elliptical path around it that takes it from as close as 29 million miles all the way out to 43 million miles away from it – its orbit being quicker than any other planet due to its small size!
Due to Mercury’s proximity to the Sun, it can only be observed with special care during daylight. Telescopes with special safety precautions must be used in order to avoid accidentally pointing it towards its source and potentially destroying optics; even NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope was never permitted to observe Mercury for fear of such damage.
Though Mercury can be seen during daylight, for maximum visual impact it should be observed at its closest approach to Earth during equinoxes; typically occurring around early autumn in countries of the Southern Hemisphere and late winter for those in Northern Hemisphere nations, which gives it the appearance of being much larger in the sky at that moment than at any other time.
Mercury orbits closer to Earth than any other planet due to its highly elliptical path that spends more time on one side than the other of the Sun.
Mercury moves closer and further from the Sun than any other planet on a daily basis due to its fast path through the inner Solar System. Therefore, its distance can change significantly each day as Mercury approaches or recedes from it.
Mercury’s fast speed means it spends most of its time within an extremely thin layer of hydrogen gas called the exosphere, surrounding its rocky body and keeping its temperatures hot while being extremely bright. This results in Mercury being very bright and hot at the same time.
Mercury’s close proximity to the Sun makes it vulnerable to meteor storms that can wreak havoc with spacecraft en route, making its weather the most extreme of any planet in our Solar System and explaining why spacecraft are taking so long to reach Mercury; even short journeys like Mariner 10 in 1970 or current European-Japanese bepiColombo missions require years to reach their science orbits.
Venus, Earth’s closest planet neighbor, is the second-least distant from the Sun and named after the goddess of love and beauty. From a distance it resembles a bright white point of light; during peak brightness Venus ranks third after Moon and Jupiter as one of three brightest objects visible to human eyes in night sky.
Venus can be difficult to comprehend due to its toxic atmosphere and heat-trapping clouds of sulfuric acid; however, robot spacecraft and satellites have provided us with invaluable data.
Venus shares many characteristics with Earth; both planets feature a solid iron core surrounded by a hot mantle which slowly circulates, with an extremely thin crust which bulges at places, creating volcanoes and other geological features. Venus boasts the fewest impact craters of any rocky planet, suggesting its age could be relative.
Venus boasts temperatures ranging from moderate to extreme at its surface and clouds. Its thick carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere also traps heat, decreasing sunlight reaching its surface.
Upper atmosphere wind speeds can reach 300 km/h (185 mph), 60 times the planet’s rotation speed. This results in an intense dust storm which moves around every four or five days and moves beneath clouds where temperatures range from daytime highs of approximately 840 K (282 degC, or between -470 and -226 degC) to nighttime lows of 100 K, creating an extreme cycle.
Venus rotates on an opposite axis than that of Earth, but at such a slow rate that this does not significantly change its overall shape. Its unusual axis rotation likely originated as the result of collision with another celestial body early in its existence.
Venus orbits the Sun at approximately 0.07 astronomical units at its closest distance from it; called perihelion. When farthest away (called aphelion), however, Venus lies about 108 million kilometres (66.7 million miles). These distances resemble that of Earth but no human has ever reached Venus’ surface!
Mars, commonly referred to as our closest neighbor, shares many characteristics with Earth such as deserts, valleys and polar ice caps. It is the smallest planet in our Solar System and red in color, which Romans and Greeks interpreted as representing bloodshed due to its association with war. Mars has a thicker atmosphere than Venus or Mercury while still remaining thinner than Earth’s atmosphere – its surface features canyons, volcanoes, dry lake beds and craters.
Mars’ surface temperatures average around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon gases with trace amounts of water vapor and oxygen present; its climate includes small icecaps at each pole and a dense core made up of iron, nickel, sulfur and oxygen while its crust contains mixtures of sand silicate rock minerals (magnesium aluminum calcium potassium).
Mars years are estimated to be equivalent to 687 Earth days and their distance can fluctuate greatly depending on where Mars lies in its orbit around the Sun. Many believe that planets orbit perfectly circular paths around their respective Suns; however, most have elliptical orbits which mean they become closer or further from it at certain times of their journeys around it.
Mars appears as a bright red “star” when closest to Earth, often appearing at dawn and evening. This year, Mars will reach its closest point this October 13, at opposition with the Sun; this will provide our best opportunity of viewing Mars since we won’t get another opportunity until 2022! During opposition this year, images from Hubble Space Telescope could capture new details about this mysterious world.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and also one of the brightest objects in space – ranking second after only our Sun and its satellites. Composed mainly of hydrogen and helium gases, Jupiter lacks any solid surface; instead its vivid hues come from cloud formation; while fast-moving jet streams divide clouds into dark belts and bright zones across vast swaths of its surface powered by rapid rotation; scientists still do not fully comprehend how jet streams form but the discovery has been assisted by data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.
Jupiter is famous for its Great Red Spot, an enormous storm several times the size of Earth that has been roiling nonstop for 300 years and can easily be seen through binoculars or telescopes. Other distinctive features of the gas giant include its faint ring system featuring an inner torus of dust particles, main ring consisting of dust and ice particles, and gossamer rings comprised of debris from Amalthea and Thebe moons – as well as an inner torus made up of dust particles; outer torus of dust particles make this gas giant easily identifiable from binoculars or telescope.
Jupiter can easily be located in the night sky due to its vast size and brightness. As one of the fastest-rotating planets, its fast spin produces an enormous magnetic field which extends over millions of kilometers – helping trap its 63 moons in circular orbit around it.
Stargazers from around the globe will have ample opportunity to view Jupiter this week as it draws near to Earth for the first time in 59 years. On Monday night, Jupiter will reach its annual opposition, when it rises in the east just as sun sets in west. Due to Jupiter’s noncircular orbit – with bulges and contractions occurring periodically throughout its cycle – closer points in its cycle may bring it closer than others; at its closest point this year Jupiter will be approximately 367 million miles from us!