Artist's impressions of a 'super-planet'

A newfound planet (artist’s impression, left) has the same galactic address as the fictional planet Vulcan, of Star Trek fame. Credit: University of Florida/Don Davis

Planetary science

The exoplanet that could be Spock’s home world

A super-Earth orbits the star named by Star Trek’s creator as the host of the planet Vulcan.

Astronomers have discovered a planet twice the size of Earth orbiting the nearby star 40 Eridani — precisely where Star Trek character Spock’s home planet Vulcan supposedly lies.

Bo Ma at the University of Florida in Gainesville and his colleagues used a 1.3-metre telescope in Arizona to find the planet, which is about 8.5 times the mass of Earth and orbits its star every 42 days. That star, known as HD 26965 or 40 Eridani, is roughly the same age as the Sun, but slightly cooler and less massive. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote in 1991 that 40 Eridani is Vulcan’s home star.

40 Eridani is a triple star system, and the newfound planet orbits the system’s primary star, just as Vulcan purportedly does. At 5 parsecs (about 16 light years) from Earth, the star is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Like Earth, the planet may have a gassy atmosphere. However, it is a little too close to its star for life as we know it to prosper.