Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was visionary in many ways: The Enterprise crew’s communicators presaged today’s smartphones, Bones’s sickbay mirrored in modern medical scanners, and, well, we’re still working on that transporter. Now, it seems he accurately predicted a location for science officer Spock’s home planet, Vulcan.
The magazine Sky & Telescope reports this week that back in 1991, Roddenberry and three astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, declared in a letter to the magazine that Vulcan most likely would orbit the star 40 Eridani A. Although not mentioned in the original TV series or later feature films, a number of stars had been put forward by Trekkies as the likely locale of Vulcan. Roddenberry and his co-authors argued that 40 Eridani A was the most likely because, at 4 billion years old, an orbiting planet would have had long enough to evolve a superlogical being such as Spock.
Now, astronomers have found that 40 Eridani A, an orange dwarf star 16 light-years from Earth, does indeed have a planet. The Dharma Planet Survey, which is looking for low-mass planets around bright nearby stars, reports in a paper due to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that the putative “Vulcan”—officially known as HD 26965b (and shown above in an artist’s illustration)—is eight times the mass of Earth. That means it will have high gravity, probably too high to support any sort of alien life. It also orbits close enough to its star to be very hot. But then, Spock was always known to keep a cool head when the pressure starts to climb.