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Planet Vulcan Discovered? October 29, 2008

by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback

In an exciting example of how science follows science fiction, Epsilon Eridani, the star system rumored to contain Spock’s home world of Vulcan, may in fact be home to Earth-like planets. NASA’s Spitzer space telescope has observed asteroid belts orbiting the star that may indicate an Earth-like planet zone similar to our own. What will we find when we can take a closer look? Read on to learn more!

Earth-Like Planets?
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has taken a fresh look at a nearby planetary system, Epsilon Eridani. The system has long been of interest to astronomers and science fiction fans alike because of its proximity (10.5 light-years) and resemblance to our solar system. Newly discovered asteroid belts make this system even more like our own and indicate the possible existence of Earth-like worlds. Astronomers think that each of the asteroid belts could have a planet orbiting just outside it, shepherding its rocky debris into a ring in the same way that Jupiter helps keep our asteroid belt confined. The inner belt orbits at a distance of about 3 astronomical units from its star — or about the same position as the asteroid belt in our own solar system (an astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and our sun).


Artist’s conception of the Epsilon Eridani star system

Have Scientists Finally Discovered Vulcan?
Epsilon Eridani is of particular interest to Star Trek fans, as many have claimed it as the star system which is home to the planet Vulcan. According to the non-canon reference book, Spaceflight Chronology, Epsilon Eridani is cited as the Vulcan system. This is inconsistent, however, with Enterprise episode “Daedalus” in which the distance to Vulcan is said to be approximately 16 light-years. In addition, Epsilon Eridani is a relatively young star at only 850 million years of age (our sun in 4.5 billion years old). This doesn’t bode well for the advanced Vulcan civilization fabled to exist there.

The star 40 Eridani is another star that has been said to be the home of the planet Vulcan. 40 Eridani, a triple-star system 16 light-years from Earth, includes a red-orange K dwarf star slightly smaller and cooler than our sun. Vulcan is thought to orbit that dwarf star, called 40 Eridani A. In the July 1991 issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry published a letter endorsing 40 Eridani as Vulcan’s sun. So what do you think? Could there indeed be an Earth-like planet home to an alien species orbiting Epsilon Eridani?


In orbit around Vulcan (from ‘Star Trek Enterprise’)



Comments

1. Steven - October 29, 2008

That’s awesome. Vulcan discovered! And, dare I say it, FIRST!?!?!

2. Mike - October 29, 2008

Something tells me we aren’t going to find Spock there.

3. steve - October 29, 2008

Something tells me we aren’t going to find Spock there.

Unless we take into account the TV broadcasts that might touch the planet in (okay, years and years) years. A young Eridaniian might get to view the premiere of TOS.

It might inspire him to get his head caught in a…uh…mechanical rice picker…..

4. DaiMonRon - October 29, 2008

Hello, Vulcan!

5. NL-NaeZ - October 29, 2008

I really want to meet T’ pol now…!!

6. Joe Schmoe - October 29, 2008

Is that water I see in the photo above? I don’t remember seeing oceans on the planet Vulcan in other movies and episodes. Or at least I’m imagining Vulcan with no oceans.

In regards to the proximity of Vulcan to Earth: It’s really hard to pinpoint where these make believe places really are.

After all, in the episode “Broken Bow”, the Enterprise with a top speed of Warp 5 can get to the Klingon home world in 3 days!? In other, older material, the Klingon Empire is located in the Beta Quadrant (there’s a term that wasn’t referenced in any TNG-era Trek.)

So who the heck knows where these planets are . . . . the whole thing’s make-believe entertainment, anyways.

Besides, everyone knows that our universe is nothing more than a small globe hanging on the collar of cat.

7. blake powers - October 29, 2008

Wanted: 1 picture of the new enterprise and 1 picture of Leornard Nimoy in new trek garb.
(to stay on topic: awesome article)

8. Bella Oxmyx - October 29, 2008

Now find Talos 4 so we can avoid it.

9. Joe the Plumber - October 29, 2008

A planet of mavericks!!

10. Charliebob - October 29, 2008

To be fair, 850 million years is plenty for Vulcans to mature…seeing as there were dinosaurs here 60million years ago.

11. Ler - October 29, 2008

Really just depends on when the Progenitors came through….

12. ster julie - October 29, 2008

I still don’t understand why this is news NOW when Scientific American had a four-inch filler article about this discovery several years ago. Unfortunately, since it was a filler article it’s not saved in the archive. I couldn’t find it online. I’m not lying–honest! I just can’t prove that I’m right. (=^(

13. naHQun - October 29, 2008

So I thought we allready discovered Vulcan. I have a Star Trek mag from about 10 years ago (5?) that said a Dr. Cochrane (someone’s gonna kill me if that’s misspelt) discovered it. Glad to know it’s still out there.
And I hope they can still get our TV broadcasts after February ;-)

14. Ves - October 29, 2008

Silly people, of course we won’t find Spock. We’ll find pure Vulcans, then we’ll introduce them to our Earth women, THEN we’ll find Spock.

15. Orb of the Emissary - October 29, 2008

Ok, where can I book a flight to go to Vulcan?? ;-)

16. naHQun - October 29, 2008

#6 The Star Trek: Star Charts (ISBN 0-7434-3770-5) clearly show where Vulcan is supposed to be, and lables it as “Vulcan (40 Eridani A). And the term “Beta Quadrant” was invented *for* TNG. (FWIW Sol is *on* the Alpha/Beta border).

17. Oregon Trek Geek - October 29, 2008

How long does/will it take to go from Earth to Vulcan, at say, Warp 5?

Warp 9?

I’m just curious if anyone knows, or if it was ever discussed in any of the series….

18. Kayla Iacovino - October 29, 2008

@12 you are probably remembering the discovery of a Jupiter mass planet around Epsilon Eridani in 2000. The Spitzer Space Telescope has made these new observations recently.

19. Irishtrekkie - October 29, 2008

If they do find a planet, can we have a star trek fans letter campaign to name the planet vulcan ? ? ? if they would let us of course , but i think it would be cool

20. DATA KILLED SPOT! - October 29, 2008

Epsilon Eridani contains 2 planets that can support life. Us Trekkers would classify them as “L” class planets.
About 200,000 years ago, an alien probe equiped with A.I. malfunctioned and never returned to it’s home planet, which was located in the Andromeda Galaxy. Instead it kept on exploring the Universe, expanding itself to accommodate all the information it was gathering. Eventually it travelled through a wormhole to the Milky way. About 87,000 years ago, it came across Earth. Despite all it’s travels, the Probe never encountered an Earth-like planet. After several seconds of intense study, the probe abducted 10,000 humans from the surface, and stored their molecules in its database, with the intent of seeding humanity in another starsystem. 3 years later, the Probe reached Epsilon, where it relocated them on one of the planets. The humans had a gift of adapting to their environments rapidly, and established themselves on the alien planet with little trouble. In order to keep track of their progress, the Probe commisioned “Guardians”. These Guardians maintained a human-like appearance and kept watch over the developing civilization, which the humans called

21. Sheryl - October 29, 2008

Now, if we could just convince them to drop in for a visit…!

22. NCC-73515 - October 29, 2008

the Star Charts also have 40 Eri as the vulcan system… and so does the Technical Manual

23. Crusade2267 - October 29, 2008

Epsilon Eridani may or may not be Vulcan, but we know that there is a Great Machine at the heart of the third planet there, Epsilon III.

24. Daoud - October 29, 2008

Star Trek: Enterprise settled this in placing Vulcan at 40 Eridani. That was the source of stating how many light years Vulcan was from Earth. It’s Roddenberry-endorsed: ergo, it’s 40 Eri, no debate for Vulcan. Clearly, Epsilon Eridani would make a good location for P’Jem, or another Vulcan colony, or even Coridan.

Of course, even if you prefer Epsilon Eridani, it doesn’t matter that it’s a younger system… As Spock explained to Sargon, “That would explain certain inconsistencies in Vulcan history…”

Epsilon Eridani would have been a more logical place than Procyon (Star Trek: Enterprise’s choice) or Epsilon Indi (other sources) to place Andor though! eps Eri and 40 Eri are close enough that neighboring warp-capable cultures would very likely end up in a stew of troubles.

But back to the real world… more exoplanets… yum.

25. The TOS Purist aka The Purolator - October 29, 2008

Everything’s inconsistant with “Enterprise” episodes, so I don’t care if that show said Vulcan couldn’t be orbiting Epsilon Eridani. It doesn’t count! lol

26. navamske - October 29, 2008

I figured the Spitzer telescope would find E.T. first. “El-i-ot…”

You’re more likely to understand this if you live in the New York metropolitan area.

27. Sid - October 29, 2008

Roddenberry said Vulcan was at 40 Eridani, ENT put it at 40 Eridani on-screeen, pretty much wraps ‘er up for me.

28. TrekMadeMeWonder - October 29, 2008

DIBS!

29. richpit - October 29, 2008

26…

Ha ha! I get it and I’m nowhere near NY!

Where’s Kristen??

30. desertrat - October 29, 2008

Let’s go there before they come to us!!

Yeah, let’s change history!

31. Ensign Ruiter - October 29, 2008

The “images” of planets that are discovered outside of our solar system are always fascinating. It bothers me that no astronomer has, in fact, ever seen one, however. These planets are always detected by measurable star wabble, light magnitude versus distance, etc. I am not disputing that they are real, but it would be great to actually see a new planet for real some time. Please let me know if I’m wrong.

#3 Steve, that is funny.

32. Jonfucius - October 29, 2008

For the Halo fans out there, isn’t Epsilon Eridani the system where Reach is founded in the 26th century? At any rate, exciting news!

33. Christopher L. Bennett - October 29, 2008

40 Eridani was first proposed as Vulcan by James Blish in his 1968 adaptation of “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” The star system was then referenced in the STAR FLEET TECHNICAL MANUAL and Alan Dean Foster’s STAR TREK LOG SEVEN. The SPACEFLIGHT CHRONOLOGY’s use of Epsilon Eridani is probably the result of misremembering those sources.

ENT never explicitly said that Vulcan was 40 Eri, but it did say Vulcan was 16 light-years from Earth, which is consistent with 40 Eri. (And with a half-dozen red dwarf stars, but the intention was clear.)

10: “To be fair, 850 million years is plenty for Vulcans to mature…seeing as there were dinosaurs here 60million years ago.”

You’re going from the wrong end. After Earth formed, it took at least 500 million years for single-celled life to emerge, and another 3 billion years for multicellular life to emerge and an oxygen atmosphere to form. The dinosaurs didn’t evolve in the first place until the Earth was already 4.25 billion years old. (The dinosaurs died out — except for birds — 65 milion years ago, but they’d been around for 150 million years before then.) If there is an Earthlike planet around Eps Eri, it’s far too young to have complex life.

34. Kirk's Girdle - October 29, 2008

I did not know about Vulcan. But I did know this:

Epsilon III is the third planet of the Epsilon Eridani system, which the eponymous space station of the series Babylon 5 orbits. Formerly the home of an advanced alien race, it is now abandoned but still contains the remarkable Great Machine, which guards the planet against interference.

35. Capt Mike From the Terran Empire - October 29, 2008

Ok. Depend on which Scifi show. In B5 it is home of the great machine. In startrek it’s Vulcan. But we won’t see it in our lifetime. But then again maybe we will. Kool.

36. Kelinda - October 29, 2008

I want to be the first Earth woman to marry a sexy Vulcan. Hurry up Cochran and invent that warp drive.

37. werewindle - October 29, 2008

No. 19… OF COURSE WE CAN!!! It probably wouldn’t do much, especially if it were exclusively a Trek campaign, but what a COOL idea!

38. Spock - October 29, 2008

There’s a backward sentence in the news item. It says ‘inconsistent with Enterprise’.

Everybody knows that it’s the other way around. The makers of Enterprise just liked making the show inconsistent with the rest of the universe to see how many people they could annoy.

And not one genuine lesbian moment between T’Pol and Hoshi?

A damned crime.

39. Bob Tompkions - October 29, 2008

Eridani 40, being part of a triple star system, would not be a scientifically sound choice to have for Vulcan’s star. Excessive radiation from its two partner stars would probably render the entire area sterile. Further, the orbit of any such planet would be so disturbed and irregular due to 3 conflicting fields of gravity tugging it every which direction that a stable enough environment to favor evolution wouldn’t be likely.
Epsilon Eridani, OTOH, would be a better choice for a liveable planet to orbit. A lot of luck would have to be be involved since earth has had several ‘false starts’ with its evolution due to- yep, collisions with asteroids. The youth of the system would probably mean evolution would have had to occur in a straight line with no mass extiction events.

Sorry.
I didn’t mean to bore.

40. Spocko - October 29, 2008

“Mr. Sulu, you don’t think…”
“Maybe you should set a course for Vulcan.”

41. Bill Peters - October 29, 2008

Wonder if the split with their Roumulan Brothers have happen? if so earth is in trubble!

42. Green-Blooded-Bastard - October 29, 2008

I vulcan love it!

43. Sid - October 29, 2008

#38: You, sir, are my hero for the night.

44. Gary Seven - October 29, 2008

Question:

What do the Starship Enterprise and toliet paper have in common?

(Hint: It is relevant to the thread because it has to do with astronomy).

45. Christopher L. Bennett - October 29, 2008

39: “Eridani 40, being part of a triple star system, would not be a scientifically sound choice to have for Vulcan’s star. Excessive radiation from its two partner stars would probably render the entire area sterile.”

Not really. The B and C stars are nearly 420 AUs away from the A star, about ten times as far as Pluto is from the Sun. 40 Eri B is a white dwarf and C is a tiny red dwarf. Any planet around B or C would’ve been cooked when B went through its red giant phase, but A is far enough away to have been spared. And C is a flare star, creating a gamma-ray hazard, but again, reasonably far away from A.

“Further, the orbit of any such planet would be so disturbed and irregular due to 3 conflicting fields of gravity tugging it every which direction that a stable enough environment to favor evolution wouldn’t be likely.”

Not at all. Again, the B and C stars are so tiny and distant that their gravitational effect on a planet in A’s habitable zone would be insignificant.

If there’s any strike against the 40 Eri system as a possible home for life, it’s that its metallicity is estimated to be relatively low, meaning it might have smaller planets and be less likely to have a habitable-sized one. But the fact that it has a white-dwarf component means it’s probably a relatively old system, unlike Epsilon Eri, which is way too young to have a viable planet.

” A lot of luck would have to be be involved since earth has had several ‘false starts’ with its evolution due to- yep, collisions with asteroids. The youth of the system would probably mean evolution would have had to occur in a straight line with no mass extiction events.”

Actually, extinction events promote evolution rather than discouraging it. They create environmental pressures and challenges, which promotes adaptation and innovation, and they clear out ecological niches for new species to evolve into. The greatest burst of evolutionary creativity in Earth history, the Cambrian Explosion, followed a series of “Snowball Earth” extinction events in quick succession.

But remember, it can take at least half a billion years for even the first single-celled life to arise, and several billion more years for the multicellular breakthrough to occur. If there is life on a planet of Epsilon Eri, then it’s very probably still entirely single-celled.

46. James - October 30, 2008

@ 6 & 16:

I seem to recall some starchart showing the Solar System on the Alpha/Beta Quadrant Border as well.

However, the use of the term ‘Quadrant’ has varied significantly throughout Trek. For example, in ST:II, when the Enterprise is ordered to go to Regula to investigate Carol Marcus’s unusual message, Kirk tells Spock that the Enterprise has to go, despite having a trainee crew, because it’s ‘the only ship in the quadrant’. He can’t mean the only ship in the Alpha Quadrant! Most of the Federation is located there!

In ST:V, when Captain Klaa arrives at Nimbus III, Spock tells Kirk that a Klingon Bird-of-Prey is ‘entering the quadrant’, and will be in range ‘in 1.9 hours’. Pretty small quadrant!

In ST:VI, Sulu manages to get the Excelsior from what he calles the Beta quadrant to Khitomer (which we know is in the Alpha Quadrant from TNG) within a couple of hours.

We know from DS9 that Dominion territory is about 60,000 light years away from the Federation in the Gamma Quadrant.

We know from VOY that they get thrown 70,000 light years into the Delta Quadrant. We also know from VOY episode ‘The Raven’ that the Beta Quadrant seems to be largely unexplored.

So Quadrants, with a capital Q, are the big 4 – the ones which the galaxy is chopped up into. However, there is also the potential for another type of quadrant – with a little q – a smaller measurement of galactic volume, perhaps comparable to ‘sector’.

47. Holger - October 30, 2008

In case you are looking for 40 Eridani A on a (real) star chart and can’t find it: It is also called Omicron 2 Eridani and many charts list the star under that name.

48. BeyondtheTech - October 30, 2008

How about we find Ceti Alpha V and send Bush, Osama, and the rest of both of their friends over there on a one-way trip?

49. steve - October 30, 2008

#21 – Sheryl – We have to wait until April 4th, 2063.

50. CJS - October 30, 2008

“You’re going from the wrong end. After Earth formed, it took at least 500 million years for single-celled life to emerge, and another 3 billion years for multicellular life to emerge and an oxygen atmosphere to form. The dinosaurs didn’t evolve in the first place until the Earth was already 4.25 billion years old. (The dinosaurs died out — except for birds — 65 milion years ago, but they’d been around for 150 million years before then.) If there is an Earthlike planet around Eps Eri, it’s far too young to have complex life.”

Unless it was seeded, which is consistent with Star Trek Canon (Return to Tomorrow) and could explain how a desert world with relatively low biodiversity has an intelligent life form on it in the first place.

51. Christopher L. Bennett - October 30, 2008

50: “Unless it was seeded, which is consistent with Star Trek Canon (Return to Tomorrow) and could explain how a desert world with relatively low biodiversity has an intelligent life form on it in the first place.”

True… but the problem with Epsilon Eri is that it has something like 100 times as much asteroidal debris as our system, because it’s so young. That would be a major hazard to a terraformed planet. Any ancient power seeking to create a livable world around Eps Eri would’ve cleared out the bulk of that debris first, even used the cometary matter to bombard the planet as a source of water and gases.

However, according to the STAR CHARTS book, Epsilon Eridani is Axanar. So maybe the Axanar have really good asteroid shielding or something.

52. beerwriter - October 30, 2008

#3,

At 16 light years distance the first commercial radio broadcasts from Earth would have reached Vulcan in 1936 (whether they could have heard them would depend on the sensitivity of their receivers) while television signals would begin arriving in the early 1960s. (Same disclaimer as my earlier parentheses).

53. neonknights - October 30, 2008

Actually I consider Spaceflight Chronology more canonable than Star Trek(?): Enterprise.

54. DATA KILLED SPOT! - October 30, 2008

38.

Homosexuality is illogical…….. and so is heterosexuality.

55. CaptainRickover - October 30, 2008

# 3

I think. the speed datas for warpspeed given by Sternbach/Okuda can’t be correct. There’s pure chaos among all Trek shows. Sometimes it need to days to move 20 lightyears, sometimes they reach the center of the galaxy within just a few hours (30000 lightyears, if I’m correct). But I guess, the Enterprise-D was really able to cross the federation (10000 lightyears) within two or three days by warp 9 (I know, I know… the TNG-TM says otherwise, but no one said it’s canon, right?) and so, the NX-01 needed 3 days for around 1000 lightyears. But that’s only my point to this matter.

And:
If Eridani is really Vulcan, NASA should build a starhsip to reach it! The people of earth could really need some logic suggestions.

56. Sid - October 30, 2008

#55: Sadly, they’re only semi-logical right now; the Vulcan Reformation won’t start until 2154 :(

57. Spocks Brain - October 30, 2008

Star Trek fans are…. FASCINATING!!!!

58. Scott - October 30, 2008

“Unless we take into account the TV broadcasts that might touch the planet in (okay, years and years) years.”

Well, since 40 Eridani is 16 light-years from Earth, the broadcasts got there some time ago. ;-)

59. Bob Tompkins - October 30, 2008

#45, 50

Well stated and I won’t go into detail on any rebuttal; I’ve read many articles [Isaac Asimov, the greatest explainer of our age among others] who have pointed out these problems with potential life on planetary systems in multiple star systems. Gamma Ray bursts are theorized to be extinction events.
As to evolution, I was referring to a time factor, not the benefits of mass extinctions. It took almost 4 billion years for ‘intelligent’ life to arise here; it would have to have happened on a much more abbreviated time scale there.
But as I said- well said.

60. Joel1245 - October 30, 2008

“Unless we take into account the TV broadcasts that might touch the planet in (okay, years and years) years. A young Eridaniian might get to view the premiere of TOS.”

TV broadcasts Steve? Don’t you mean “historical documents”?

61. The Last Maquis - October 30, 2008

AARG!! Where’s Risa??

62. cosmospowell@comcast.net - October 30, 2008

Join the Planetary Soceity. They are online. Check it out…

63. cosmospowell@comcast.net - October 30, 2008

Society… Sorry.

64. Trekkie16 - October 31, 2008

Cool – I wonder how long before a Starbuck pops up.

65. SciFi Weekend: David Tennant Leaving Doctor Who; Liz Lemon to Date Don Draper; Weak Economy Helps Weak Shows; Lorelei Gilmore Becomes a Doll; and The Planet Vulcan Discovered - Liberal Values - Defending Liberty and Enlightened Thought - November 2, 2008

[…] finally, the planet Vulcan might have been […]

66. Christine - November 2, 2008

Haha, nice! Hopefully we’ve happened upon something more like Vulcan and less like… Reman, mayhaps. xD

That’s cool, though. New planet = Always cool.

Remember “First Contact”? Maybe in about… 40; 50 years we really WILL have a first contact. Now wouldn’t that be somethin’? 8D

67. Kurt - February 6, 2009

Life more complex than one-celled organisms is only 500 million years old on earth. Current theory holds that It took 4 billion years for simple molecules to develop the level of multicellular organisms. Evolution on Vulcan would have presumably followed a similar sequence. Also, it is unlikely that life could have developed on Vulcan without oceans. The scenario then must have been something like this. Anciently Vulcan had oceans. Life developed with progenitor seed assistance toward modern Vulcans. While this evolution was progressing, geologic changes caused Vulcan to become hotter and drier and lose its oceans. This could have included a change in Vulcan’s orbit, cooling of the core leading to a weakening the protective magnetic field, allowing the atmosphere to begin eroding under the stellar wind. It should also be noted that in Star Trek the progenitors went extinct about 4 billion years ago. Epsilon Eridani is not a likely location for Vulcan since it is so young.

68. Trekkies - take notice « Terrysm1006’s Weblog - March 3, 2009

[…] by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback […]

69. J H H - March 11, 2010

And then, life could have developed on a planet in orbit around 40 Eri A, and evolved to an intelligent level, but will refuse to ever contact (or even acknowledge) us because … it “evolved to an intelligent level”. Why do Trekkies keep wasting time looking for intelligent, logical, pacifistic civilizations way out on distant planets? We have them right here, on Earth … and they are want absolutely “NOTHING” to do with us! They are called, the Amish. ;-)

70. E glee - September 29, 2010

live long and prosper

71. FTL - November 2, 2011

There are four quadrants in the galaxy if you are talking in real terms. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta. I am not completely sure as to what other types of quadrants in the galaxy there are. Earth is located in the Alpha quadrant, close to the Beta quadrant. Maybe since the planet has such a close proximity to the Beta quadrant, that is why it would take very little time for a ship to cross at warp and be detected by starfleet. When Spock says the Klingon bid of prey will be entering the quadrant within 1.9 hours, it might be coming for. The Beta quadrant, which is close to all these empires (and Romulus is inside the Beta quadrant.) I also agree that there might be other types of quadrants that are similar to sectors, though I find the use of the same word for two different things very confusing.

72. Koichi Ito - January 20, 2012

I thought that Mr. Spock’s home planet was Mars? Because Vulcan do look like Planet Mars! If not Planet Vulcan should look more like Earth! After all, person who made up fictional planet Vulcan, because it was the favorite planet of science fiction writers!

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