In Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series, humanity’s first contact with an alien species is with the iconic Vulcans. Hailing from Planet Vulcan, the pointy-eared, green-blooded logical humanoids have become one of the most recognisable make-believe races in all of science fiction.
In 2018, scientists believed they had discovered a real-life version of Spock’s planet orbiting the same star it does in the show. Orbiting 40 Eridani A, 16 light-years away, the planet was described as being twice the size of Earth with years that last 42 days. The planet was named 40 Eri b.
However, it turns out that the real-life Planet Vulcan doesn’t exist after all. After five years, a reexamination of the planet has revealed that it was never a real planet in the first place.
In the revised study, scientists reported: “We present strong evidence that the planet HD26965 b (o2 Eri b, 40 Eri b) reported [in 2018] is not a planet, and is rather caused by stellar activity.”
40 Eri b’s existence was questioned by other scientists at the time of its discovery. The non-existent planet was found by radial velocity, measuring light emissions from the 40 Eridani star to find objects that have a gravitational pull.
Unfortunately for Trekkies everywhere, it turns out that 40 Eri b’s supposed pull was not from a celestial body. Instead, the would-be pull was caused by the star itself, not the fictional planet.
Discovering exoplanets with radial velocity is rather touch-and-go. On one hand, it’s quite accurate at detecting large exoplanets. However, finding smaller planets has a habit of being far more inaccurate, hence the issue with Planet Vulcan.
NASA was hoping to perform a further investigation into the now-non-existent planet. The planet’s alleged closeness to the 40 Eridani star made it a strong candidate for a future habitable home for mankind. That future will now never happen.
Humanity is still far from reaching the Warp capabilities it fictionally reached in Star Trek’s history. However, we are still exploring the stars, with manned Mars missions planned for the 2030s. Will we pointy-eared aliens? No. But we can dream!