Mountain Views News, Sierra Madre Edition [Pasadena] Saturday, September 22, 2018

MVNews this week:  Page A:8



Mountain Views-News Saturday, September 22, 2018 



Among the TV series Star Trek’s many charms are 
its rich universe of characters and planets. Now, 
the Dharma Planet Survey, in a new study led by 
University of Florida (UF) astronomer Jian Ge and 
team including Tennessee State University (TSU) 
astronomers Matthew Muterspaugh and Gregory 
Henry, has shown that science fiction may be a 
little less so; the Dharma project has discovered 
what may be Star Trek’s famed planet Vulcan.

 “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 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 discovery was made using 
the Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope 
(DEFT), a 50-inch telescope located atop Mt. 
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 (Bantam, 1968) 
and ‘Star Trek Maps’ by Jeff Maynard (Bantam, 
1980),” explains Henry. In a letter published in 
the periodical “Sky and Telescope” in July 1991, 
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, along 
with Sallie Baliunas, Robert Donahue, and George 
Nassiopoulos of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center 
for Astrophysics confirmed the identification of 40 
Eridani A as Vulcan’s host star. 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.

 “Vulcan is the home planet of Science Officer Mr. 
Spock in the original ‘Star Trek’ Sci-Fi series,” says 
Henry. “Spock served on the starship Enterprise, 
whose mission was to seek out strange new worlds, 
a mission shared by the Dharma Planet Survey.”

 “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 

 “This discovery demonstrates that fully 
dedicated telescopes conducting high-cadence, 
high-precision radial velocity observations in the 
near future will continue to play a key role in the 
discovery of more super-Earths and even Earth-
like planets in the habitable zones around nearby 
stars,” says Ge. “I am very grateful to the donor 
of our Dharma Planet Survey, Mr. Mickey Singer, 
who recognized the importance of this project and 
has continuously provided support to make this 
and future discoveries possible.”


 You can contact Bob Eklund at: b.eklund@

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