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It's an incredible experience when a longtime stranger turns out to be closer than you ever imagined. If you think it's never happened to you, think again: You live on a planet that can claim Mercury -- that seemingly distant, sizzling hot block of stone -- as its nearest planetary neighbor.
Surprised? You probably thought that title belonged to Venus, right? So did a team of scientists, who developed a complex model of the solar system in which they could follow the orbits of all the planets for thousands of years. In the end, they found that, on average, Mercury spends the most time closest not only to Earth, but to every other planet, as well. The trick is remembering that all planets must circle close to the Sun at some point, just as they travel far from it at other times. And when they are closest to the Sun, they are closest to Mercury, as well.
For the record, though, when considering which planet has the closest approach to Earth at any point, Venus is still our nearest neighbor.
More about Mercury:
- Mercury is barely bigger than Earth's moon. It's the smallest planet in the solar system, and it's slowly shrinking.
- A year on Mercury lasts just 88 days.
- Temperatures on Mercury can range from 840°F (450°C) to -275°F (-170°C).