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Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
This graphic shows the orbits of Mercury and Venus within the orbit of the Earth, and the maximum angular distance between these planets and the Sun as viewed from the Earth
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Courtesy of NASA.

The Innermost Planets as Bright Stars

Venus and Mercury, the innermost planets in the solar system, always appear only a small distance away from the Sun in the sky. The maximum elongations (maximum angular distances between an inner planet and the Sun as viewed from the Earth) of these planets are 47 degrees and 28 degrees, respectively.


Mercury is so small and so close to the Sun (always within 28 degrees) that it is difficult to see from Earth, since it is usually lost in the Sun's glare. The innermost planet can be seen with the naked eye only at twilight, very low in the sky, near the horizon.


From Earth, Venus can appear up to 47 degrees away from the Sun. During these times, when it rises or sets a few hours before or after the Sun, it can be seen just before sunrise or just after sunset as a bright morning or evening star. At these times, Venus is up to 15 times brighter than the brightest star, Sirius, and can even cast shadows.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF