We have probably been taught in Geography class, precisely the first topic to be treated in Senior Secondary School – The Solar System – that Venus is the closest to earth and it is considered earth’s twin because it is the only other planet in the solar system that can support life. Search engines and Scientist Populariser also agree to it that Venus is the closest to the planet Earth.
However, on Tuesday, March 12 2019, PhysicsToday published a recent discovery and a new model used in calculating the distance between the planets. The model was put together by three scientists from the US Army, NASA and the University of Alabama.
Criticizing the old way of calculating the distance between the two planets (essentially subtracting the two planets’ average distance from the sun), a team of researchers wrote in a commentary: “By some phenomenon of carelessness, ambiguity, or groupthink, science popularizers have disseminated information based on a flawed assumption about the average distance between planets.” These researchers are Tom Stockman, a Ph.D. student at the University of Alabama; Gabriel Monroe, a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center; and Samuel Cordner, a mechanical engineer at NASA.
The researchers who devised the mathematical model said Venus and Earth cannot be neighbors because both planets move at different speed and for most times, Venus is always on the opposite end of the sun. When measured this way, Mercury was closest to Earth most of the time. Not only that, but Mercury was also the closest to all of the other planets.
The researchers came to this conclusion by mapping out where the planets were in their orbits every 24 hours for 10,000 years. A table was also done to crosscheck the distance between each planet.
Defining the closest might still be too broad and controversial but it is best to say the planet closest to earth in distance is Mercury while the closest in feature still remains Venus.