Turns out the real-life Star Trek planet is just a star illusion

An artist’s concept of the previously proposed potential planet, HD 26965 b – often compared to the fictional “Vulcan” in the Star Trek universe. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

New research refutes the existence of Vulcan, a planet believed to orbit 40 Eridani A, and attributes the detected signals to the star’s surface activity.

The planet thought to orbit the star 40 Eridani A — host of Mr. Spock’s fictional planet, Vulcan, in the “Star Trek” universe — is actually a kind of astronomical illusion caused by the pulsations and twitches of the star itself. This is according to a new study published in Astronomical magazine.

Initial excitement and subsequent doubts

The potential discovery of a planet orbiting a star made famous by the Star Trek series generated excitement and a lot of interest when it was announced in 2018. Just five years later, the planet appeared to be on shaky ground as other researchers questioned whether it existed at all. . Now, use accurate measurements NASA– The NSF instrument, installed a few years ago on Kitt Peak in Arizona, seems to have brought the planet Vulcan more specifically back into the realm of science fiction.

Methods for detecting exoplanets

Two methods of discovering exoplanets – planets orbiting other stars – dominate all others in the ongoing search for strange new worlds. The transit method, observing the small dip in starlight when a planet crosses the face of its star, is responsible for the vast majority of detections. But the “radial velocity” method also achieved a good share of Exoplanet Discoveries. This method is particularly important for systems containing planets that do not intersect the faces of their stars from Earth’s perspective. By tracking subtle shifts in starlight, scientists can measure the “wobble” in the star itself, as the gravity of the planet it orbits pulls it in one direction, then in another. For very large planets, the radial velocity signal often leads to unambiguous planetary detections. But non-large planets can be a problem.

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Questioning the existence of Vulcan

Even the scientists who made the possible original discovery of HD 26965 b — compared to the fictional planet Vulcan — warn that it may turn out to be just messy stellar ramblings masquerading as a planet. They have reported evidence of the existence of “super-Earths” – larger than and smaller than Earth Neptune – In a 42-day orbit around a sun-like star about 16 light-years away. The new analysis, using high-resolution radial velocity measurements that were not yet available in 2018, confirms that caution about the potential discovery was justified.

NEID tool clarifies uncertainties

The bad news for Star Trek fans comes from an instrument known as NEID, a recent addition to the telescope complex at Kitt Peak National Observatory. NEID, like other radial velocity instruments, relies on the “Doppler” effect: shifts in a star’s optical spectrum that reveal its oscillating motions. In this case, analysis of the planet’s putative signal at different wavelengths of light, emanating from different levels of the star’s outer shell, or photosphere, revealed significant differences between the individual wavelength measurements — their Doppler shifts — and the overall signal when they were all combined. This means that, in all likelihood, the planet’s signal is actually a flash of something on the star’s surface that coincides with a 42-day rotation — perhaps the vibration of the hotter and cooler layers beneath the star’s surface, called convection, along with features of the stellar surface. Such as spots and “plates”, which are bright and active areas. Both can change the star’s radial velocity signals.

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The possibility of future discoveries

While the new discovery, at least for now, deprives star 40 Eridani A of its potential planet Vulcan, the news isn’t all bad. Demonstrating such finely tuned radial velocity measurements holds the promise of making sharper observational distinctions between actual planets and the wiggles and rattles on the surfaces of distant stars.

Even the destruction of Vulcan was expected in the Star Trek universe. Vulcan was first identified as Spock’s home planet in the original 1960s television series. But in the 2009 movie “Star Trek,” a Romulan villain named Nero uses an artificial device. Black hole To blow Spock’s home world out of existence.

A science team led by astronomer Abigail Burroughs of Dartmouth College, formerly of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, published a paper describing the new finding, “Death of Vulcan: NEID Reveals Planet Candidate Orbiting HD 26965 Is Stellar Activity.” Astronomical magazine In May 2024 (Note: HD 26965 is an alternative designation for star 40 Eridani A.)

Reference: “Death of Vulcan: NEID Reveals Planet Candidate Orbiting HD 26965 Is Stellar Activity*” by Abigail Burrows, Samuel Halvorson, Jared C. Siegel, Christian Gilbertson, Jacob Lunn, Jennifer Burt, Chad F. Bender, Arpita Roy, Ryan C. Therrien, Selma Vangsten, Suvrath Mahadevan, Jason T. Wright, Paul Robertson, Eric B. Ford, Gumundur Stefansson, Joe B. Neenan, Colin H. Blake, Michael W. McElwain, Christian Schwab and Jinglin Zhao, age 26 April 2024, Astronomical magazine.
doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/ad34d5

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