Top 10 Star Trek Planets Chosen by Our Scientists
What would happen if the crew of the Starship Enterprise handed over the controls to our scientists and engineers? It turns out many are avid Star Trek fans with lengthy itineraries in mind.
What is perhaps the most famous Star Trek planet was placed by creator Gene Roddenberry in a real star system: 40 Eridani. This trinary system of three dwarf stars, about 16 light-years from Earth, could play host to exoplanets; none have been detected there so far. The most massive is 40 Eridani A, chosen as Vulcan’s sun.
An icy “M-class” (Star Trek’s term for “Earth-like”) moon of a much larger planet—a gas giant—that is home to soft-spoken humanoids with blue skin, white hair and stylish antennae. In our solar system, gas giants play host to icy moons, such as Jupiter’s Europa or Saturn’s Enceladus, that possess subsurface oceans locked inside shells of ice. Our missions are searching for lifeforms that might exist in these cold, dark habitats.
Another Trek M-class planet known for its engineered tropical climate and its welcoming humanoid population. The planet is said to orbit a binary, or double, star system—in Star Trek fan lore, Epsilon Ceti, a real star system some 79 light-years from Earth. The first discovery of a planet around a binary was Kepler-16b, which is cold, gaseous and Saturn-sized.
4. “Shore Leave” planet, Omicron Delta region
This is another amusement park of a planet, where outlandish characters are manufactured in underground factories straight from the crew members’ imaginations. In real life, astronauts aboard the International Space Station print out plastic tools and containers with their own 3-D printer.
“Star Trek: Into Darkness” finds Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy fleeing from chalk-skinned aliens through a red jungle. Red or even black vegetation could exist on real planets that orbit cooler, redder stars, an adaptation meant to gather as much light for photosynthesis as possible. An example may be Kepler-186f, a planet only 10 percent larger than Earth in diameter. At high noon, the surface of this planet would look something like dusk on Earth.
6. Wolf 359
A star best known in the Star Trek universe as the site of a fierce battle in which a multitude of “Star Trek: Next Generation” ships are defeated by the Borg. But Wolf 359 is a real star, one of the closest to Earth at a distance of 7.8 light-years. Wolf 359 is also a likely observational target for the Kepler space telescope in the upcoming Campaign 14 of its “K2” mission.
7. Eminiar VII/Vendikar
These two planets are neighbors, sharing a star system. So, of course, they’ve been at war for centuries. While we have no signs of interplanetary war, multiple rocky worlds have been discovered orbiting single stars. A cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1 is orbited by three Earth-size planets; two have a chance of being the right temperature for liquid water, with possible Earth-like atmospheres.
The planets Romulus and Remus are home to the Romulan Empire (ancient Rome, anyone?), although Remus seemed to have gotten the raw end of the deal. Remus is tidally locked, one face always turned to its star. Tidally locked worlds might well be a real thing, with many possible candidates discovered with our Kepler space telescope. The habitable portion of the surface of such planets might be confined to a band between the day and night sides called the “terminator zone”—a.k.a. the twilight zone.
9. Janus VI
A rocky world lacking an atmosphere, perhaps similar to Mars. While humans must maintain an artificial underground environment to survive, the innards of the planet are a comfortable home to an alien species known as the “Horta.” Their rock-like biochemistry is based on silicon, rather than carbon, inspiring us to imagine the many forms life might take in the universe.
In the Star Trek universe, Earth is home to Starfleet Headquarters; the real Earth is, at least so far, the only life-bearing world we know. No true Earth analogs have been discovered among the real exoplanets detected so far. But a new generation of space telescopes, designed to capture direct images of exoplanets in Earth’s size range, might one day reveal an alternative “pale blue dot.”
Learn more about exoplanets at: exoplanets.nasa.gov
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