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’)