Planet thought to be like Spock’s Vulcan is an astronomical illusion

Planet thought to be like Spock’s Vulcan is an astronomical illusion

A planet thought to be similar to Star Trek character Spock’s fictional home planet Vulcan is an astronomical illusion caused by the pulses and jitters of a star, a new study has found.

The discovery of a planet orbiting the star 40 Eridani A, made famous by Star Trek, drew excitement when it was first announced in 2018.

But new measurements using a Nasa instrument installed on Arizona’s Kitt Peak a few years ago have led to the conclusion that the planet does not exist.

In fact, even the study which noted the existence of planet Vulcan had cautioned that it could be messy jitters from the star masquerading as a planet.

The new research, described in The Astronomical Journal, used highly precise measurements of radial velocity, not yet available in 2018, to confirm that the caution about the discovery was justified.

Radial velocity instruments rely on the Doppler effect whereby shifts in the light spectrum of a star can reveal its wobbling motions.

Astronomers tracked small shifts in light from 40 Eridani A and measured how it “wobbled” as the gravity of an orbiting planet tugged at it.

After analysing the data, they came to the conclusion that the “planet” signal that was previously detected may have been the flickering of the star’s surface.

The signals previously recorded were likely the roiling of hotter and cooler layers beneath the star’s surface, called convection, combined with the star’s surface features similar to sunspots.

This robs star 40 Eridani A of its possible planet Vulcan, at least for now.