Planet Vulcan is the ancestral home of one of Star Trek's main characters, Spock. Now, scientists reported that they have finally found the real life version of what was originally a fictional world.
In 1991, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and three astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics revealed, through a letter to Sky & Telescope magazine, their preferred choice for planet Vulcan's location. They identified the most likely candidate for Vulcan's sun.
Although the star around which Vulcan revolves was not identified in the original series and the feature films that were based on it, two stars have been suggested as likely candidates, namely the stars Epsilon Eridani, and 40 Eridani, also known as star HD 26965.
Roddenberry and the astronomers said that they prefer 40 Eridani, as the host star of Vulcan and explained why. They cited observations suggesting that 40 Eridani is 4 billion years old, which is about the same age as our sun.
Epsilon Eridani, on the other hand, is barely 1 billion years old, which means that any planet orbiting it has not yet evolved beyond the level of bacteria. Spock's home world notably hosts intelligent beings.
"An intelligent civilisation could have evolved over the aeons on a planet circling 40 Eridani. So the latter is the more likely Vulcan sun," Roddenberry and the three astronomers wrote in their letter.
Now, researchers involved in the Dharma Planet Survey, which aims to find low-mass planets orbiting bright, nearby stars, revealed the discovery of what may be Star Trek's planet Vulcan.
The planet is a super-Earth orbiting 40 Eridani. It is located only 16 light years away from Earth, making it the closest super-Earth circling another Sun-like star.
Astronomers said the exoplanet orbits its star within a 42-day period and is just within the star's optimal habitable zone.
Astronomers made the discovery, using the Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope (DEFT) located on top of Mt. Lemmon in southern Arizona.
"Spock served on the starship Enterprise, whose mission was to seek out strange new worlds, a mission shared by the Dharma Planet Survey," Gregory Henry, an astronomer from the Tennessee State University, said in a statement published by the University of Florida.
Henry and colleagues reported the discovery of the planet dubbed HD 26965b in a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
"We report the first planet detection from DPS, a super-Earth candidate orbiting a bright K dwarf star, HD 26965," they wrote in their study, which was published online on July 19.