In 1966 a television show called Star Trek made its debut, introducing fans of the show to a character named Spock, who hailed from a planet named Vulcan, which orbited a star called 40 Eridani A. The planet and star were based on a real star of the same name. In 2018, to much acclaim, astronomers discovered an exoplanet orbiting the star, giving rise to the existence of what many called a “real planet Vulcan.”
Despite the excitement around that discovery, a new study currently published on the preprint server arXiv claims that the actual planet Vulcan doesn’t exist after all and that the readings were incorrect somehow. The planet, which scientists called 40 Eri b, was recently the center of attention as a group of researchers began looking through a list of exoplanets that NASA is considering for closer study.
Of course, studying the real planet Vulcan would have been exciting, so it isn’t surprising that the exoplanet would have made a list of this sort. Unfortunately, any excitement around a deeper study of the planet will now be dulled by these claims that it doesn’t even exist. The planet was initially believed to exist based on an analysis that used radial velocity to study the wavelengths of light emitted by the star.
Based on that analysis, many believed that an exoplanet, later called Vulcan by Star Trek fans, orbited the star, causing a gravitational tug on the star. However, when revisiting that discovery, researchers found that the pull was most likely due to activity on the star’s surface, not evidence of an existing exoplanet around it.
As such, for now, it seems like the sage of the real planet Vulcan may have ended. Of course, this discovery doesn’t mean that there isn’t an exoplanet there. Future studies of 40 Eridani A could reveal another possible exoplanet in the area. It’s also worth noting that this study hasn’t been featured in a peer-reviewed journal, so the data here could require additional analysis.
Either way, such a discovery is disheartening for Star Trek fans who loved the idea that Spock’s planet, Vulcan, could actually exist in some form. Being able to connect things from movies and television shows to our real world can help foster greater connections to those fictional things.
Nevertheless, there is still a ton of exploration left to be done within our universe, and with telescopes like the James Webb, we’re sure to see more revelations in the coming months and years. Perhaps we’ll finally find our solar system’s ninth planet, or even prove that the planet Vulcan does actually exist, just not where we thought. The possibilities are, quite literally, astronomical.
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