Posts for Tag: space

Mercury is the closest planet to Earth (on average)

Posted In: Science
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We all learned the order of planets in school. In my case using the mnemonic, My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (MVEMJSUNP) for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars Jupiter Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Since Pluto has been demoted to a dwarf planet, you could change the Nine Pizzas to Noodles or something else.

And in terms of distances, Venus’s orbit (0.72 AU, or Astronomical Units (i.e. 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun) is closer to Earth’s orbit (1 AU by definition) than Mercury’s (varies between 0.31 and 0.47 AU because of it’s more elliptical orbit) or Mars’ (1.5 AU).

However, I saw an article, stating that Mercury might in fact be the closest planet to Earth (on average) so I thought I’d whip up a visualization that shows which planet is closest as a function of the planetary orbits around the sun.

Because of where the planets are on these orbital paths, and specifically the time it takes Mercury to orbit the sun, Mercury is the planet that is closest to Earth more often and has an average distance to Earth that is lower than the other 2 inner planets. Mars is occasionally the closest as well, but on average much further than Mercury or Venus. Also interesting is that Mercury is, on average, about 1 AU away from Earth, which is the same as the distance to the Sun.

This simulation shows how the planet positions vary each day over a 30 year period and the regularity with which the distance between Earth and the other varies over time. Mercury has the shortest period while Mars has the longest. You can change the speed of the simulation to speed up or slow down the orbits of the planets.

Data and Tools:
I thought about simulating the planets but there are plenty of tools out there that generate this orbital data so instead just downloaded ephemeris data (data related to positions of astronomical bodies) from NASA website.. I processed the data using javascript and drew the picture using HTML canvas tools and made the distance vs time plot with the Plotly open source plotting javascript library.

Mercury is closest planet to Earth