Exoplanet found orbiting Mr. Spock’s home star

An artist’s impression of an exoplanet orbiting a distant sun. Image: NASA

Astronomers have found an exoplanet orbiting 40 Eridani A, a nearby star famous in the fictional world of “Star Trek” as the home of Science Officer Spock’s home planet Vulcan. The newly discovered exoplanet was found by the automated 1.3-metre (50-inch) Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope in Arizona.

“The new planet is a ‘super-Earth’ orbiting the star HD 26965, which is only 16 light years from Earth, making it the closest super-Earth orbiting another Sun-like star,” said University of Florida astronomer Jian Ge. “The planet is roughly twice the size of Earth and orbits its star with a 42-day period just inside the star’s optimal habitable zone.”

The orange star is slightly cooler and slightly less massive than Earth’s Sun and has a similar magnetic cycle.

HD 26965 – 40 Eridani A – is a triple star system. Gregory Henry, an astronomer at Tennessee State University who works with the Dharma telescope, said Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry confirmed Spock’s home planet orbited the system’s primary star in a 1991 letter to Sky & Telescope magazine.

“This star can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the host stars of most of the known planets discovered to date. Now anyone can see 40 Eridani on a clear night and be proud to point out Spock’s home,” said Bo Ma, a postdoc at the University of Florida and lead author of the paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Ge said the discovery, the first for the Dharma Planet Survey, illustrates the value of dedicated telescopes “conducting high-cadence, high-precision radial velocity observations” in finding more super-Earth’s “and even Earth-like planets in the habitable zones around nearby stars.”