- Astronomers discover an exoplanet orbiting 40 Eridani star – exactly where Spock’s home planet lies.
- The planet has 8.4 times the mass of Earth and an orbital period of 42 days.
- It revolves too close to its host stars, which can be seen with the naked eye.
We all are familiar with character Spock in the Star Trek series and his home planet Vulcan. In 1991, Gene Roddenberry (producer of Star Trek Universe) predicted that 40 Eridani (HD 26965) is Vulcan’s home star.
Although different stars had been mentioned in the movies and original TV series, Roddenberry and his co-authors stated that 40 Eridani A was the most likely locale of Vulcan. Since the star is more than 4 billion years old, any planet revolving around it would have had enough time for superlogical being (like Spock) to evolve.
Now, researchers at the University of Florida have discovered an interesting exoplanet using a 130 cm telescope (Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope) in Arizona. It is nearly twice as big as Earth and has an orbital period of 42 days. The planet has a gaseous atmosphere and is too close to its host star to be extremely hot.
Started in 2016, the Dharma Planet Survey looks for exoplanet-induced wobbles within 160 light-years. The telescope’s spectrograph can compute radial velocities down to 1 m/s, which allows it to detect lighter planets orbiting close to their host stars.
Vulcan And Its Home Star
40 Eridani is a triple stellar system (where each star orbits the system’s center of mass), and the newly discovered exoplanet orbits the primary star of the system. Situated at more than 16 light-years from Sun, it’s so bright that one can obverse it from Earth with the naked eye.
Unlike the host stars of many of exoplanets discovered to date, you can point out Spock’s homeland on a clear night. The star is nearly as old as our Sun, but less massive and slightly cooler. Also, it has a magnetic cycle of 10.1 years, which is nearly identical to the Sun’s 11.6-year sunspot cycle.
Finding exoplanets through the radial velocity method and regularly monitoring their transit window is the most successful approach for detecting bright stars with transiting planets, which are useful for exoplanet atmospheric analysis.
Artistic impression of Vulcan (left) | Credit: Don Davis/University of Florida
The survey done so far will provide a homogeneous dataset to constraint formation models of lighter exoplanets with periods not more than 450 days. Also, the study offers a better technique to investigate lighter exoplanets nearby FGKM dwarfs compared to Doppler surveys.
This new finding shows that completely dedicated telescopes featuring most accurate radial velocity, high-cadence readings in the coming years will continue to play a crucial role in the search of super-Earth like planets orbiting nearby stars.