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!
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’)
That’s awesome. Vulcan discovered! And, dare I say it, FIRST!?!?!
Something tells me we aren’t going to find Spock there.
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…..
I really want to meet T’ pol now…!!
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.
Wanted: 1 picture of the new enterprise and 1 picture of Leornard Nimoy in new trek garb.
(to stay on topic: awesome article)
Now find Talos 4 so we can avoid it.
A planet of mavericks!!
To be fair, 850 million years is plenty for Vulcans to mature…seeing as there were dinosaurs here 60million years ago.
Really just depends on when the Progenitors came through….
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. (=^(
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 ;-)
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.
Ok, where can I book a flight to go to Vulcan?? ;-)
#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).
How long does/will it take to go from Earth to Vulcan, at say, Warp 5?
I’m just curious if anyone knows, or if it was ever discussed in any of the series….
@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.
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
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
Now, if we could just convince them to drop in for a visit…!
the Star Charts also have 40 Eri as the vulcan system… and so does the Technical Manual
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.
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.
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
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.
Roddenberry said Vulcan was at 40 Eridani, ENT put it at 40 Eridani on-screeen, pretty much wraps ‘er up for me.
Ha ha! I get it and I’m nowhere near NY!
Let’s go there before they come to us!!
Yeah, let’s change history!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I want to be the first Earth woman to marry a sexy Vulcan. Hurry up Cochran and invent that warp drive.
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!
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.
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.
I didn’t mean to bore.
“Mr. Sulu, you don’t think…”
“Maybe you should set a course for Vulcan.”
Wonder if the split with their Roumulan Brothers have happen? if so earth is in trubble!
I vulcan love it!
#38: You, sir, are my hero for the night.
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).
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.
@ 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’.
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.
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?
#21 – Sheryl – We have to wait until April 4th, 2063.
“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.