by Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
Epsilon Eridani was already special, even before today. It is one of only four stars that scientists have found to have an icy ring of debris, which indicates that it has begun the process of forming planets. Additionally, at about 62 trillion miles away, it is our closest known solar system, and was borrowed by Star Trek creators as the home of the fictional planet of Vulcan (Mr. Spock’s home planet).
But it just got even more interesting… NASA announced today that the star, only 10.5 light-years from the sun, has two inner asteroid belts as well as a Jupiter-like planet in a very familiar orbit. Basically, Epsilon Eridani resembles a younger version of our own solar system.
Some astronomers postulate that if the solar system is like ours, then it’s likely that there are planets like ours as well. Others point out that it isn’t really a twin, but a different beast altogether; there are three belts of comets and astroids whereas our system has two. Scientist Jane Greaves makes an interesting point: “This implies that planets can shape systems very differently, and if life emerged in this system in the future, the environment could be very different. [For instance, comets and asteroids could pummel a habitable planet] from all directions, so life might have to evolve very fast to survive.”
Of course, the real question is, if there is a habitable planet there, is it anything like Vulcan? As a Star Trek geek, I know this about the fictional planet: (1) it’s hotter than Earth, (2) the atmosphere is thinner, and (3) it has stronger surface gravity. This is why the human Captain Kirk had so much trouble in his fight to the “death” with Spock in the episode “Amok Time.”
Though what every Star Trek geek also knows is that the Vulcan civilization is much, much more advanced than humankind… which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider how much younger Epsilon Eridani is than our own sun. However, maybe Ms. Greaves’ point is an important one: who knows how fast life on other planets might evolve, given the right circumstances. Maybe Vulcans crawl out from the primordial ooze in the time it takes us to develop warp speed.
Why choose between science and science fiction when you can have both?