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Discovery Alert: Spock’s Home Planet Goes ‘Poof’

Bad news for Star Trek fans comes from an instrument known as NEID, which recently joined the telescope complex at Kitt Peak National Observatory. NEID, like other radial velocity instruments, relies on the “Doppler” effect: shifts in a star’s light spectrum that reveal its wobbly motions. In this case, analysis of the planet’s alleged signal of different wavelengths of light emitted from different levels of the star’s outer shell, the photosphere, revealed significant differences between the measurements of individual wavelengths – their Doppler shifts – and the total signal when combined. This means that most likely the planet’s signal is actually the flickering of something on the star’s surface that coincides with the 42-day rotation – perhaps the swirling of warmer and cooler layers beneath the star’s surface, called convection, combined with features of the star’s surface such as sunspots and ” beaches” which are bright, active areas. Both can change the star’s radial velocity signals.