Vulcan found?

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Scientists have found a super-earth orbiting 40 Eridani-A, a star located sixteen light years away and proposed by Gene Roddenberry in 1991 as the home star for his race of logical Vulcans.

It turns out the letter authors’ prediction was right — a world really does orbit the primary star of the three-star 40 Eridani system. (Whether it’s home to a logic-based alien society, though, is anyone’s guess!)

The world is a super-Earth, the most common type of planet in the galaxy (though a type that’s missing from our solar system). At twice Earth’s radius and eight to nine times its mass, 40 Eridani b sits on the line that divides rocky super-Earths from gaseous ones. The planet orbits its star every 42 days, putting just inside the system’s habitable zone — in other words, where it’s nice and hot. At 16 light-years away, it’s the closest super-Earth known and therefore a good potential target for followup observations.

The discovery was made by a survey taking place using a relatively small telescope right here in the Tucson area, on top of Mount Lemmon. Most cool!


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


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  • Orion314

    Vulcans, now that is an illegal alien invasion I could get behind , VLM :}

  • wayne

    on a serious Note:
    ref: “At twice Earth’s radius and eight to nine times its mass…”
    What, is the force of gravity at the surface?

    on a more historical Note:

    “On Jan 2, 1860 Urbain Le Verrier announced the discovery of Planet Vulcan, orbiting between the sun and the planet Mercury.” [“This astonishing discovery finally solved the question of why Mercury orbited so strangely… the only problem was that it was totally wrong…”]

  • Andrew_W

    “At twice Earth’s radius and eight to nine times its mass…”
    What, is the force of gravity at the surface?

    Twice Earths.

  • Col Beasabre

    Given the gravity on Vulcan, Spock must be a Klingon imposter! They’re not tall and thin, but squat and powerfully built.

  • Andrew_W

    “On Jan 2, 1860 Urbain Le Verrier announced the discovery of Planet Vulcan, orbiting between the sun and the planet Mercury.”

    That was my first thought on reading the title, though finding it again seemed improbable.

  • wayne

    Thank you. Can you show your work? I’m having trouble conceptualizing that.

  • Andrew_W

    Inverse square law, double the radius you double the distance to the center, so gravity from a given mass drops to a quarter, with 8 times the mass the strength of gravity is 8 x 0.25 = 2
    Probably some of the physics and math experts here could put it better.

  • Edward

    You phrased it well.

    However, if that wasn’t clear, then try this longer explanation:
    For a planet, we can model the gravity as a point source at the center. Gravity decreases as the inverse square of the distance from the center, the radius, so a planet with twice the radius ( 2r ) and the same mass would have a gravitational force a quarter ( 1/[2r]^2 = 1/4 ) of the gravitational force of the first planet. Since the mass of the second planet is eight or nine times greater, and gravity is directly proportional to mass, then the math is:

    8g x 1/4 = 2g (Andrew_W used the estimated eight times Earth’s mass), or

    9g x 1/4 = 2.25g (using the estimated nine times Earth’s mass)

  • wayne


    Thank you.

  • pzatchok

    I can’t help but think that by the time the human race is able to travel to another habitable planet even a marginally habitable one we would not need to to.

    But for those who want to, I think we would be at the point that we could genetically change humans to better fit the environment.

    And I bet that we would be capable if this inside of 200 years. Unless something very bad happens.

    Any planet with liquid water and land to grow crops on. We don’t want a water world either.

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