A ‘super-Earth’ discovered orbiting a star 16 light years away from us, could be the Star Trek’s famed planet Vulcan – home of the beloved character of Spock from the popular TV series. The discovery was made using the Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope (DEFT), a 50-inch telescope located atop Mt Lemmon in southern Arizona, US. The planet is the first ‘super-Earth’ detected by the Dharma Survey.
Star Trek creators associated planet Vulcan with a real star, called 40 Eridani A. Scientists from University of Florida (UF) and Tennessee State University (TSU) in the US have now found that the star indeed hosts at least one planet. “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 Jian Ge, an astronomer at UF, who led the study. “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,” Ge added.
“This star can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the host stars of most of the known planets discovered to date. Now anyone can see 40 Eridani on a clear night and be proud to point out Spock’s home,” said Bo Ma, first author of the study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 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, researchers said. “HD 26965 may be an ideal host star for an advanced civilisation,” said Matthew Muterspaugh from TSU.
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“Star Trek fans may know the star HD 26965 by its alternative moniker, 40 Eridani A,” said Gregory Henry, from TSU. In a letter published in the periodical ‘Sky and Telescope’ in July 1991, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, along with scientists of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics confirmed the identification of 40 Eridani A as Vulcan’s host star. The 40 Eridani star system is composed of three stars. Vulcan orbits the primary star, and the two companion stars ‘would gleam brilliantly in the Vulcan sky,’ they wrote in their 1991 letter.
“Vulcan is the home planet of Science Officer Mr. Spock in the original ‘Star Trek’ Sci-Fi series,” said Henry. “Spock served on the starship Enterprise, whose mission was to seek out strange new worlds, a mission shared by the Dharma Planet Survey,” he said.