New data gathered by a ground-based telescope network sheds some light on the mystery surrounding Tabby’s Star.
For years, researchers have been perplexed by the mystery behind the ‘most mysterious star in the universe.’ Nicknamed after American astronomer, Tabetha Boyajian, KIC 8462852, commonly known as Tabby’s Star, has been the center of much speculation and theorizing due to its sudden drops in brightness.
KIC 8462852 which is located over 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus was first observed to be showing light fluctuations, dimming in brightness of up to 22 percent, by the Kepler Space Observatory during its extended primary mission from 2009 to 2013.
With very little data to understand what causes KIC 8462852’s luminous fluctuations, researchers have hypothesized everything from evaporating comets to an alleged alien megastructure as the reason behind the giant star’s sporadic winks.New data suggests no #alien megastructure in Tabby's Star. #KIC8462852Click To Tweet
Alien Megastructure in Tabby’s Star?
In 2016, Boyajian of Lousiana State University in Baton Rouge and Jason Wright of Penn State University launched a campaign to unravel the mystery of Tabby’s Star. To gather more data, the scientists opened a Kickstarter campaign to fund the much-needed observation time through the Las Cumbres Observatory in California.
The team was able to raise over $100,000 USD, enabling them to observe the star, which is said to be 50 percent bigger and 1,000 degrees hotter than our own Sun, from March 2016 to December 2017.
“All of our supporters were interested in seeing data be collected so they could help us figure out what it was,” Boyajian said. “We made no promises. We’re not going to search for signs of ET. The project was to see what happened next.”
After 21 months of extended observation by the Las Cumbres Observatory and over 200 scientists who contributed to the study, the gathered data has finally been published in a report on arXiv.org. The new data largely debunks the famous theory of an alien megastructure in KIC 8462852.
According to said theory, the blinking phenomena observed in Tabby’s Star is caused by the so-called presence of a Dyson Sphere, something akin to a Death Star-style power station that surrounds the star and sucks all of its energy.
Thrilling as it might sound, Boyajian and her team suggest that the dimming and brightening of the star is due to another reason and not from some orbiting disk or large space structure.
“We were hoping that once we finally caught a dip happening in real time we could see if the dips were the same depth at all wavelengths,” Wright, a co-author of the study, was quoted as saying. “If they were nearly the same, this would suggest that the cause was something opaque, like an orbiting disk, planet, or star, or even large structures in space.”
“This latest research rules out alien megastructures, but it raises the plausibility of other phenomena being behind the dimming.” -Jason Wright
Apparently, the data gathered by the researchers suggests that KIC 8462852’s blinking is because of dust. Yes, Star Wars fans, not some Death Star-like infrastructure, just regular space-dust.
“Dust is most likely the reason why the star’s light appears to dim and brighten. The new data shows that different colors of light are being blocked at different intensities. Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected from a planet or alien megastructure,” Boyajian explained.
While the latest finding seems to solve the mystery of Tabby’s Star, a new set of questions have been raised regarding the existence of the dust: where is it and how is it being produced in space? What factors are contributing to this phenomenon?
For now, Boyajian said that only time and continuous observation could answer these questions. Should her team be granted additional observation time, they believe that the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch next year, could provide a more detailed look at KIC 8462852 in infrared.