This artist’s illustration shows the newly-found super-Earth orbiting 40 Eridani A. University of Florida
Sometimes science fiction anticipates scientific discovery. That exactly what happened when the Dharma Planet Survey uncovered a new “super-Earth” orbiting 40 Eridani A 16 light years away. Does the name faintly ring a bell? Star Trek fans will remember this as the location of Mr. Spock’s fictional planet Vulcan.
Led by Jian Ge of the University of Florida, a team of scientists used the Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope (DEFT), a 50-inch telescope located atop Mt. Lemmon in southern Arizona, to pry it from the glare of its host star. They discovered it by measuring the a minute but cyclic change in the star’s speed caused the gravitational tug of the planet. You can read about their discovery paper here.
The “Vulcan” planet was discovered using the radial velocity method. As an unseen planet revolves around its parent star, its gravitational pull tugs the star first toward the Earth, causing the light it emits to appear bluer (blue squiggles) and then away, which causes the light to redden slightly. ESO
The planet is roughly twice the size of Earth but 8.5 times as massive and orbits every ...