The clearest image of our nearest planet: Mercury as you've never seen it


I was about to go on a rant about how Mercury is not our nearest planet - but then looked it up on Wolfram. Checks out: (for now)


I was about to initiate the same rant. Thanks for the head’s up. :smile:

It looks a little … dry.

It should probably read, “our nearest planet at this time”…


Could not get it to plot all three on one graph (then again from past experience i seem to think differently from what it expects as a question. However Wolfram did spit out a nice picture to illustrate:

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No. No it should not:

Here are the average distances (skewed to Mercury as it spends more time “near” the Earth than Venus/Mars spend “near” Earth, this is a counter intuitive result of orbital mechanics)

Average distance to Mercury: 1.04 AU
Average distance to Venus: 1.14 AU
Average distance to Mars: 1.7 AU


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I want to know what all the inaccurate information was.

Here’s the dark side of Mercury, as all the citizens light up their blue glow sticks for their nightly EDM rave?

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probably “here’s what mercury acutually looks like!” without clarifying that this is a false-color image.

Playing semantics. Due to the nature of their orbits and orbital period any one of the three could be nearest Earth. The title isn’t average nearest, it’s just nearest which in my mind implies right now. It’s like asking who is the person you are in closest proximity to, not the one you spend the most time around.

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Dasm! Ever since I read KSR’s “2312,” I knew that I belonged on Mercury. (In the year 2312, of course.) Very, very nice picture - thanks for the reference!

It’s ironic to accuse someone of playing semantics when you’re suggesting a semantic change to the original title of the post; that’s great and all, and with the title as is, it’s gotten at least a few people to think more deeply about what is actually the normal case.

The reality of the physical world around us is that Mercury is actually the closest planet (as currently defined) to the Earth, most of the time. I think that’s worth pointing out to people to highlight the actual physical situation we are in on a larger scale. Much like it’s useful to have a 10,000 year clock to help people get a feel for deep time and having situational awareness about our place in space.

Using NASA’s HORIZONS orbital elements generator (vector components, range), awk and wc:

Out of the last 114 years,

Number of days that Mercury was closest to Earth: 24541
Number of days that Venus was closest to Earth: 15115
Number of days that Mars was closest to Earth: 2013


You are the one playing semantics because you are incorrectly applying an Earth-centered measurement on a solar system that is understood to be Sun centered with rankings based on orbital distance from the Sun. Using your definition, we would have to say the Sun is closer to the Earth than any planet is, and that is clearly silly. Mercury may be closer most of the time, but it never gets as close as Venus does when it is closest.

Are you closer to your co-workers than a sexual partner because you are within 20 feet of them for 8 hours a day and you are only 0 inches away from your partner for 10 minutes at a time a few time a week? I’m sure if you said so to either of them, they would be weirded out, not complimenting you on your averaging skills.


ooooooookay. Wait. What? I. Just. What? Am I closer… huh? You’re comparing emotional distance to magnitudes of distances between objects in the solar system?

And then tossing in the Sun. A star as being involved in talking about the nearest planet?

Nevermind. I have clearly fallen into this trap:

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Well, considering that a Mercury nights last for 703 hours and 30 minutes I would say that they know how to party HARD.

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By that reckoning, it could very well be that Mercury is the nearest planet to -all- other planets. It just can’t get as far away as the other planets can.

That explains the Finns. At least the more-northern ones.


Errr… the title of the post was “our nearest planet.

I don’t think there could be any sense in applying a non-Earth-centric measurement if we’re explicitly talking about distances from Earth.


Enough with the distance stuff – let’s address the important issues…

It looks really cool this way. I think we should ditch any plans for Mars and get painting! We need some follow-on to the Apollo program…


Indeed. Let’s mine that shit, pronto.

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