Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and so it’s the fastest to orbit the Sun. In fact, Mercury only takes 88 days to orbit the Sun. In other words, Mercury’s orbit only takes 24% as long as Earth’s orbit.
If you were born on Mercury, you would have celebrated 4 times as many birthdays as you do on Earth. In other words, if you’re 10 here on Earth, you’d be 40 in Mercury years. Now that’s a possible way to grow up more quickly.
Mercury orbits the Sun at an average distance of only 57.9 million km. Compare this with Earth’s average orbital distance of 150 million km.
Unlike the other planets in the Solar System, Mercury doesn’t really experience any seasons. This is because Mercury has no atmosphere to trap heat from the Sun. Whichever side of Mercury is currently facing the Sun experience temperatures of up to 700 Kelvin. And then the side of the planet that’s in the shade dips down to only 100 Kelvin; that’s well below freezing. Even though Mercury is close, you would experience incredibly cold temperatures if you lived on the surface.
The orbit of Mercury was actually a great puzzle to astronomers until the 20th century. They couldn’t explain why the point of Mercury’s furthest orbit of the Sun was slowly drifting at a rate of 43 arcseconds per century. But this strange motion was finally explained perfectly by predictions made by Albert Einstein with his Theory of Relativity.
We have written many articles about Mercury for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Mercury giving up more secrets to the MESSENGER spacecraft, and here’s a massive mosaic image of Mercury.
If you’d like more information on Mercury, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide, and here’s a link to NASA’s MESSENGER Misson Page.
We have also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast just about Mercury. Listen here, Episode 49: Mercury.