January 2: The Planet That Wasn’t

spockJanuary 2 is a bit slow on the historical front, so how about a quick serving of weird science? On this day in 1860, at a meeting of the Académie des Sciences in Paris, French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier announced that he, with the help of amateur astronomer Edmond Modeste Lescarbault, had discovered a new planet between Mercury and Venus that he called Vulcan. Now, you probably didn’t know there was a planet in our solar system called Vulcan. Well, that’s because Le Verrier’s findings had one small problem: They were complete rubbish.

So, how did that happen? Well, first off, Mercury has a kind of weird orbit, so Le Verrier theorized that this was because there was another planet (which he named “Vulcan”) that threw Mercury’s orbit out of balance. Soon after he first proposed this theory, Lescarbault contacted Le Verrier and told him that he had been looking at the sun through his telescope and claimed that he saw a large sphere pass in front of Mercury. Le Verrier thought this was all the evidence he needed, and promptly announced that Vulcan had been discovered.

Although the discovery was praised, there were many people who had their doubts. Chief amongst them was noted French astronomer Emmanuel Liais, who had been looking at the sun at the same time Lescarbault claimed he saw the sphere. Liais was using a telescope that was more powerful than Lesarbault and he said he saw absolutely nothing. So, a debate about Vulcan raged for some time, and as the years went by and no further evidence was presented, more people began to doubt the existence of Vulcan.

Although NASA probes have not found anything near Mercury that could resemble Vulcan, the idea of a planet Vulcan certainly caught the attention of one science fiction television writer. However, the planet named Vulcan in Star Trek is located in orbit around the far left star of Orion’s belt, which is pretty far from Mercury.

So, the planet called Vulcan remains a flight of fancy, but you can enjoy a drink called Vulcan’s Blood. It’s a potent green drink named for the color of the blood of Star Trek‘s Vulcans. If you drink too many of these, you might start seeing non-existent planets.

Vulcan’s Blood

  • 1 1/2 ounces Amaretto
  • 1 1/2 ounces Blue Curacao
  • 1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec
  • 1 1/2 ounces Citrus Vodka
  • 6 ounces pineapple juice

Shake the liquors with ice and strain into a ice filled highball glass and then top off with pineapple juice.

Tomorrow: A presidential charity.

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