Star Trek’s Planet Vulcan Is Real But It Isn’t Actually A Planet
There is no evidence that there is a planet at star system 40 Eridani A, where fans have imagined Star Trek's Planet Vulcan to be.
One of the things that has always separated Star Trek from other sci-fi franchises such as Star Wars is the emphasis on science rather than science fiction (looking at you, Annihilation) and the use of real galactic phenomena in creative ways. For example, one of the most famous locations in all of Star Trek is the planet Vulcan, home of Mr. Spock (arguably the most well-known character in the entire franchise). Over the years, the Star Trek fandom has imagined that the planet orbiting distant star 40 Eridani A is where Vulcan would be located, but Phys.org reports that the orbiting “planet” first discovered in 2018 (40 Eri b) is not actually a planet at all.
At this point, it’s fair to ask the obvious question: with or without the involvement of Star Trek, how did a real-life planet Vulcan get suddenly discovered and just as suddenly downgraded? Originally, the distant star 40 Eridani A was discovered way back in 1783, and our scientists still didn’t know much about it in 1966, when the Star Trek: The Original Series first premiered. And even though there is no indication that series creator Gene Roddenberry originally modeled Spock’s home planet on this particular planet, it didn’t take long for fans and creators alike to make that part of the lore of the franchise.
Back in 1968, the book Star Trek 2 (which was comprised of short story adaptations of eight episodes of The Original Series, all written by James Blish) first established 40 Eridani A as the star system where the planet Vulcan was located. That book provided much of the information that went into the original Star Fleet Technical Manual, and later documents such as The Star Trek Encyclopedia repeated that this star system is where Spock comes from. Most importantly, series creator Gene Roddenberry, after consulting with scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, endorsed this as Vulcan’s star system, believing that a planet orbiting 40 Eridani A had a decent shot at developing intelligent alien life.
While all of this is cool trivia for Star Trek fans, the existence of a real-life planet Vulcan was only theoretical for centuries because scientists could not confirm that any planet orbited the real 40 Eridani A, but that all changed in 2018. The scientists who made the discovery named the planet 40 Eri B, and most of them thought the matter was settled. However, new scientists conducted more recent research into the matter, and their findings indicate that this is not actually a planet at all.
The reason for the confusion is that our 21st-century scientists don’t have access to the sophisticated sensors on Star Trek, so they had to detect “planet Vulcan” by observing a gravitational tug, one that they reasoned was generated by an orbiting planet. The newer team found out that said gravitational tug was not being generated by a planet but instead being generated by the surface of the star itself, meaning that we once again have no evidence of a planet actually orbiting this star. And while it’s obviously disappointing to hear that we don’t have a planet Vulcan in real life, we’re confident that Mr. Spock himself would call these latest findings “quite logical.”