“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,” says University of Florida (UF) astronomer Jian Ge, leader of the Dharma Planet Survey. “We may have discovered what may be Star Trek’s famed planet Vulcan. 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 discovery was made using the Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope (DEFT), a 50-inch telescope located atop Mount Lemmon in southern Arizona. The planet is the first “super-Earth” detected by the Dharma Survey.
“The orange-tinted HD 26965 is only slightly cooler and slightly less massive than our Sun, is approximately the same age as our Sun, and has a 10.1-year magnetic cycle nearly identical to the Sun’s 11.6-year sunspot cycle,” explains Muterspaugh, who helped to commission the Dharma spectrograph on the TSU 2-meter automatic spectroscopic telescope. “Therefore,” he adds, “HD 26965 may be an ideal host star for an advanced civilization.”
“Star Trek fans may know the star HD 26965 by its alternative moniker, 40 Eridani A,” says Henry, who collected precise brightness measurements of the star at TSU’s automated observatory needed to confirm the presence of the planet. “Vulcan was connected to 40 Eridani A in the publications “Star Trek 2” by James Blish and “Star Trek Maps” by Jeff Maynard,” explains Henry. The 40 Eridani star system is composed of three stars. Vulcan orbits the primary star, and the two companion stars “would gleam brilliantly in the Vulcan sky,” they wrote in their 1991 letter.
“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,” says Bo Ma, a UF postdoc on the team and the first author of the paper just published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The artists image of a Super Earth planet 55 Cancri e at the top of the page is part of a multiplanet system that was first detected in 1997. Five planets circle the host star, and 55 Cancri e was discovered in 2004. Originally, estimates of the planet’s size and massindicated that it was an ultra-dense rocky world, but Spitzer’s observations suggest that about a fifth of the planet’s mass must be made up of light elements and compounds, including water, scientists said.
The Daily Galaxy via University of Florida and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
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