There really may be a planet Vulcan.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected two asteroid belts around Epsilon Eridani, the planetary system closest to ours and home to Star Trek's fictitious First Officer Spock, the space agency reported yesterday.
A planet near the inner asteroid belt was identified eight years ago. The newly spotted planet is in the vicinity of the outer belt.
Epsilon Eridani is around 10 light-years, or 62 trillion miles (98 trillion kilometers), away from Earth's solar system and, at a mere 850 million years old, is considered a younger, similar version of our own 4.5- billion-year-old system. Star Trek creators made it the home of Vulcan, and it's possible that there are as-yet-unseen Earth-like planets between the star system and its inner ring, astronomer Massimo Marengo of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told McClatchy Newspapers.
"We certainly haven't seen it yet, but if its solar system is anything like ours, then there should be planets like ours," Marengo told USA Today.
Earthlings didn't wait for science to discover the real Vulcan before honoring Spock's sidekicks with their own asteroids. Star Trek stars George Takei, who played helmsman Hikaru Sulu, Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, and series creator Gene Roddenberry all have celestial rocks named for them.
"Of course there is disagreement among Star Trek fans about whether the planet of Mr. Spock could be at Epsilon Eridani," Marengo joked in USA Today, "because it is such a young star and Vulcans are supposed to be an advanced civilization." Nevertheless, if his home planet pans out, the iconic pointy-eared Mr. Spock character will surely live long and prosper.
(Artist rendering of Epsilon Eridani/NASA/JPL-Caltech)