More Epsilon Eridani

StarDate: February 5, 2009

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In the lore of Star Trek, the planet Vulcan orbits the nearby star Epsilon Eridani. And in fact, the star really does have planets. Logically, though, we probably won't find any Vulcans there, because the system is too young for the development of such advanced lifeforms.

Epsilon Eridani is just 10 light-years away. It's a little smaller, cooler, and less massive than the Sun -- not bad specs if you're looking for a good home for life. But it's only about a fifth of the Sun's age, so there probably hasn't been enough time for complex life to have developed.

The ingredients are there, though. About a decade ago, astronomers at McDonald Observatory discovered a planet orbiting the star. It's half again as massive as Jupiter, the giant of our own solar system. If it's like Jupiter, it's a big ball of gas with no solid surface -- not an inviting home for life.

But the planet may come close to the distance where temperatures are right for liquid water. So if the planet has big moons, they could be more comfortable places for life to develop.

At least one other planet orbits the star. So do two asteroid belts. The position of one of the belts hints at a third planet. And there's a broad disk of comets beyond the planets -- possible sources of water and the chemistry of life.

So while we probably won't find an advanced civilization there, Epsilon Eridani might be a good place for future starships to visit.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008

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