Real-life Vulcan found 16 light-years away: Newly discovered planet orbits in star system home to Star Trek’s Spock – and it’s close enough to see with the naked eye
- Dharma project has identified a nearby exoplanet orbiting the star 40 Eridani A
- Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry previously said Vulcan orbits 40 Eridani A
- The exoplanet is about twice the size of Earth and orbits with a 42-day period
- Researchers also say it’s within habitable zone, and could be ‘ideal’ for life
In the sci-fi series Star Trek, beloved character Spock hails from a planet called Vulcan – a world that researchers deduced sits in a star system known as 40 Eridani.
And now, scientists have found its real-life analog.
The Dharma project has identified a nearby exoplanet orbiting the star 40 Eridani A, which lies just 16 light-years away.
With the host star comparable in many ways to our sun, researchers say a world like the newly discovered ‘Vulcan’ planet could be in the ideal location to support an advanced civilization.
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In the sci-fi series Star Trek, beloved character Spock hails from a planet called Vulcan – a world that researchers deduced sits in a star system known as 40 Eridani. And now, scientists have found its real-life analog. Artist’s impression
‘The new planet is a super-Earth orbiting the star HD 26965, which is only 16 light years from Earth, making it the closest super-Earth orbiting another sun-like star,’ said University of Florida (UF) astronomer Jian Ge.
‘The planet is roughly twice the size of Earth and orbits its star with a 42-day period just inside the star’s optimal habitable zone.’
Researchers spotted the planet using the 50-inch Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope (DEFT) atop Mt Lemmon in southern Arizona.
It marks the first so-called super-Earth to be found by the Dharma Survey.
And, in the search for potentially habitable worlds, the real-world Vulcan may be a promising candidate.
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‘The orange-tinted HD 26965 is only slightly cooler and slightly less massive than our sun, is approximately the same age as our sun, and has a 10.1-year magnetic cycle nearly identical to the sun’s 11.6-year sunspot cycle,’ says Tennessee State University (TSU) astronomer Matthew Muterspaugh.
‘Therefore, HD 26965 may be an ideal host star for an advanced civilization.’
In 1991, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, along with a team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics penned a letter confirming 40 Eridani A as Vulcan’s host star. And now, Spock’s home planet seems realer than ever
The latest discovery has garnered excitement from researchers and science fiction fans alike, decades after scientists first attempted to pinpoint the real-world star system in which the fictional Vulcan would lie.
‘Star Trek fans may know the star HD 26965 by its alternative moniker, 40 Eridani A,’ said TSU astronomer Gregory Henry.
‘Vulcan was connected to 40 Eridani A in the publications “Star Trek 2” by James Blish (Bantam, 1968) and “Star Trek Maps” by Jeff Maynard (Bantam, 1980).”’
WHAT IS THE GOLDILOCKS ZONE?
The habitable zone is the range of orbits around a star in which a planet can support liquid water.
This habitable zone is also known as the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, taken from the children’s fairy tale.
The temperature from the star needs to be ‘just right’ so that liquid water can exist on the surface.
The boundaries of the habitable zone are critical.
If a planet is too close to its star, it will experience a runaway greenhouse gas effect, like Venus.
But if it’s too far, any water will freeze, as is seen on Mars.
Since the concept was first presented in 1953, many stars have been shown to have a Goldilocks area, and some of them have one or several planets in this zone, like ‘Kepler-186f’, discovered in 2014.
In a follow-up to the study published in 1991, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, along with a team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics penned a letter confirming 40 Eridani A as Vulcan’s host star.
And now, Spock’s home planet seems realer than ever.
‘This star can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the host stars of most of the known planets discovered to date,’ says lead author Bo Ma, a UF postdoc on the team.
‘Now anyone can see 40 Eridani on a clear night and be proud to point out Spock’s home.’
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