Part of your elementary Science class may not be as perfect as you thought it was. Researchers found that Mercury is the closest planet to the Earth, dethroning Venus as its nearest neighbor.
The finding comes after a group of scientists unlock a computation method that makes more sense compared to how distance in between planets are typically measured.
What's Wrong All Along
The traditional way of assessing the distances between planets is to get the average gap of the planet to the sun. For example, the said average distance of the Earth is one astronomical unit, while Venus is 0.72 AU. Now, get the difference between these two numbers and this yields the average distance between the Earth and Venus, which is 0.28 AU. If you apply this formula for all the planets, Venus wins as the nearest to the Earth as it has the lowest result.
Pretty simple and sensical, right? Now, what could possibly be wrong?
Updated Way Of Computing Planet Distances
The scientists find a loophole in the existing method, suggesting that this is not the accurate way of doing it. For them, Venus is actually 1.72 AU from the Earth if their newly discovered calculation is to be used.
The team calls it the point-circle method, which sees the orbit of two space objects as circular, coextensive, and contained in the same plane. They consider a planet's position, regardless of time, to have never-changing distribution around a circle, referred to as average orbital radius. With this, one can say that the average separation between two planets can be obtained by averaging the distance between every area along a planet's orbit and every area along the other planet's orbit.
To strengthen and validate their point, the team perform a simulation on the basis of their two primary hypotheses. The first one is that the orbits of the planets are circular, and the second is that their orbits are not dependent or comparable to one another.
The results show that Mercury is the nearest planet to the Earth. Such is the circumstance for most of the time, on the average.
Other Applications Of PCM
"As best we can tell, no one has come up with a concept like PCM to compare orbits," the scientific team says.
If all is accurate, they believe that PCM may be utilized to estimate the average distance in between orbiting space objects.
The findings may also aid in assessing satellite communication transfers, wherein power dips with the square of distance.
It may be hard to unlink Venus as Earth's closest neighbor, mostly because most people's knowledge from childhood says otherwise, but it's a sign that science, among all other things, keeps on innovating over time.