Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Search for Vulcan

I often joke about the search for extra-terrestial life by refering to finding Klingons and Vulcans. In the "Future History" of the various TV Star Trek series, Vulcan orbits the star 40 Eridani, which lies a mere 16 light years from our own.

Apparently, scientists at the JPL believe there could be a planet orbiting the primary star of the system (it's a trinary, or three star system). If there is a habitable planet, it would have to be orbiting much closer than the Earth around the Sun, as 40 Eridani A is a red dwarf emitting much less energy than our own G sequence star. The habitable zone around the star is around .6 AU (astronomical units, or the average distance of Earth around the Sun). A terrestrial type planet there could possilby be detected by the new SIM PlanetQuest satellite being developed by NASA/JPL and Northrup Grumman. SIM is planned to launch before the other big NASA planet finding mission, the Terrestrial Planet Finder, but no dates have yet been targeted.

"Astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have recently concluded that the upcoming planet-finding mission, SIM PlanetQuest, would be able to detect an Earth-like planet around the star 40 Eridani, a planet familiar to "Star Trek" fans as "Vulcan." 40 Eridani, a triple-star system 16 light-years from Earth, includes a red-orange K dwarf star slightly smaller and cooler than our sun. Vulcan is thought to orbit that dwarf star, called 40 Eridani A."

I guess if they're there, we'll be the first to know, unless they've already been visiting waiting for Zephran Cochrane to develop warp drive.

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