40 Eridani is a triple star system less than 16.5 light years away from Earth, in the constellation Eridanus. It is also known as Omicron2 Eridani for all collective components. Component A is also known as Keid, from the Arabic word qayd, (egg) shells.
The primary star of the system, 40 Eridani A, is easily visible to the naked eye. The pair 40 Eridani B/C was discovered on January 31, 1783, by William Herschel., p. 73 It was again observed by Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve in 1825 and by Otto Wilhelm von Struve in 1851. In 1910, it was discovered that although component B was a faint star, it was white in color. This meant that it had to be a small star; in fact it was a white dwarf, the first discovered.
40 Eridani A, a.k.a. Keid, is a main-sequence dwarf of spectral type K1. Its two companion stars, 40 Eridani B and 40 Eridani C, are a 9th magnitude white dwarf (spectral type DA4) and an 11th magnitude red dwarf flare star (spectral type M4.5e) which has the variable star designation DY Eridani. Presumably, while B was a main-sequence star, it was the most massive member of the system, but ejected most of its mass before it became a white dwarf. B and C orbit each other approximately 400 astronomical units from the primary star, A. Their orbit has a semimajor axis of 35 AU (which is the approximate average distance between B and C) and is rather elliptical (eccentricity 0.410).
Although 40 Eridani B is neither the closest white dwarf, nor the brightest in the night sky, it is by far the easiest to observe; it is nearly three magnitudes brighter than Van Maanen's Star (the nearest solitary white dwarf), and unlike the companions of Procyon and Sirius it is not swamped in the glare of a much brighter primary.
Potential for life
The primary component has a metallicity of [Fe/H]=−0.19, i.e. about 65 percent of the solar metallicity, thus providing a probably sufficient heavy element abundance for the formation of terrestrial planets. However, no planet orbiting a member of 40 Eridani is known so far. The habitable zone of 40 Eridani A, where a planet could exist with liquid water, is near 0.68 (calculated from habitable zone) AU from A. At this distance a planet would complete a revolution in 223 Earth days (according to the third Kepler's law) and 40 Eridani A would appear nearly 20%[note 2] wider than the Sun does on Earth. An observer on a planet in the 40 Eridani A system would see the B/C pair as unusually bright (magnitudes -8 and -6) white and reddish-orange stars in the night sky. This is not bright enough to diminish the darkness at night, though they would be visible in daylight (assuming an Earth-normal atmosphere). (By comparison, Earth's full moon is magnitude −12.6, and Venus at its brightest is −4.7.) It is extremely unlikely that habitable planets exist around the B star because planets circling 40 Eridani B would probably have been destroyed or sterilized by its evolution into a white dwarf. As for 40 Eridani C, it is prone to flares, which cause large momentary increases in the emission of X-rays as well as visible light. This would be lethal to Earth-type life on planets near the flare star.
- From L=4πR2σTeff4, where L is the luminosity, R is the radius, Teff is the effective surface temperature and σ is the Stefan–Boltzmann constant.
- From , where h is the apparent height, d is the distance of the object, and a is the actual size of the object.
- From Epsilon Indi the Sun would appear on the diametrically opposite side of the sky at the coordinates RA=16h 15m 16.32s, Dec=07° 39′ 10.34″, which is located near the border of Hercules (constellation) and Serpens Caput, the closest bright star being Alpha Serpentis. The absolute magnitude of the Sun is 4.85, so, at a distance of 5.04 parsecs, the Sun would have an apparent magnitude .
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- White Dwarfs, E. Schatzman, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1958. , p. 1
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