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What planet is closest to Earth?  The answer is more difficult than I expected

What planet is closest to Earth? The answer is more difficult than I expected

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In a graph like this, the answer to the question of which planet is closest to Earth seems clear. However, it's not that easy. © IAU Martin Kornmesser DLR/dpa

The smallest average distance is usually used to answer the question. However, researchers have shown that this method has a weakness.

MUNICH – “My father explains our night sky to me every Saturday.” Almost everyone knows this logo or its previous version, which included the dwarf planet Pluto. Perhaps that is why the question of which planet is closest to us seems quite clear at first glance. If you follow the list, only Venus and Mars will be taken into account. If you Google the question, you'll get an obvious answer: Venus. However, it's not that simple.

The information comes from European Space Agency website (European Space Agency), but it comes with the limitation that this information refers to the point closest to Earth in the planet's orbit. This is exactly the crux of the matter. The planets are in constant motion, and therefore there is no universal answer to the question of which planet is closest to Earth. The answer actually depends on the standard you use.

The planet closest to Earth is constantly changing

As mentioned earlier, the planet currently closest to Earth changes time and time again. Therefore, this answer is not necessarily the most practical, as in order to answer it you first have to check the current position of the planets.

This is available on the site, for example Sky Live maybe. Currently (as of January 17) Mercury is closest to Earth. On October 17, 2024, Mars will be the closest planet in our solar system. However, very few people have this knowledge in their heads.

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Venus is the planet closest to Earth at an average distance – but there's a problem with the calculation

Alternatively, you can answer the question by asking which planet is closest to Earth on average. This data is also listed on many websites. That's how you find things like this theplanets.org The following information is about the average distances from Mars, Mercury and Venus to our home planet:

planet Distance to ground (in km)
Mercury 91,691,000 km
Venus 41,400,000 km
Mars 78,340,000 km

The answer seems clear here too. However, these numbers are actually based on simplifications. “Through neglect, obscurity, or groupthink, science journalists have published information based on a false assumption about the average distance between planets,” says an article on the subject written and contributed by Tom Stockman, Gabriel Munro, and Samuel Cordner. Physics today Has been published.

The following explains the incorrect procedure succinctly: “To calculate the average distance between two planets, subtract the average inner orbit radius, r1, from the average outer orbit radius, r2.”

Researchers are developing alternative computational methods and arriving at surprising results

However, this calculation method does not take into account the relative positions of the planets during their orbit, explains Tom Stockman, a research and development engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Live sciences.

in Physics today In the published article, he and two co-authors present an alternative, more accurate method, the point-and-circle method (PCM). Stockman explains that this averages all the distances between individual points on both paths.

The three scientists created a simulation based on this method. They allowed this to be 10,000 years in order to take the time element into account and more accurately determine how long each planet was closest to Earth on average. The startling result: Mercury was, on average, closer to Earth more often over time.

The three planets closest to Earth are always the focus of research. For example, one study showed that life is possible on Mercury, but to a very limited extent. Meanwhile, researchers have discovered oxygen on Venus. (sp)