First Contact Made: Astronomers Discover VulcanBy Christian
August 1, 2000 - 12:40 AM
Robert Myers at Space.com has put up a very interesting article - apparently, scientist hunting for world orbiting stars outside our solar system have announced they've found a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting the nearby star Epsilon Eridani. Several Star Trek books have listed this star as the home star of Vulcan, the famous Star Trek planet.
Epsilon Eridani is a star very similar to our own sun, and only 10.5 light-years way from Earth. The newly discovered planet follows an oval orbit, and is roughly the same distance from Epsilon Eridani as the Asteroid Belt is from our sun. This is actually a rather unique discovery, as previously all planets found so far that are the size of Jupiter were found to be much closer to the parent star. The fact that this planet is so far away means there theoretically could be room for an Earth-like (M-class?) planet closer to Epsilon Eridani, perhaps even in a habitable zone.
Epsilon Eridani was mentioned in several Star Trek novels as the system in which Vulcan is located. If I recall correctly (though I unfortunately don't have my books here, so I'd appreciate any corrections, the system was mainly chosen because of how far away from the sun it was. Gene Roddenberry, however, preferred the star 40 Eridani as Vulcan's sun, as this star is of about similar age to our own sun, giving a better chance for live to develop in that system. An explanation of why Gene and three astronomers connected to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics thought so can be found here.
More info on this discovery can be found by reading the full article. Interestingly, the lead astronomer for this discovery, Dr. William Cochran, has a name that is very similar to Zefram Cochrane, who in Star Trek lore made actual first contact with the Vulcans. The new planet will likely be dubbed Epsilon Eridani b.
Thanks go out to Gustavo Leao for this!