No alien megastructure for Tabby's Star

James Marshall
January 13, 2018

In a paper published Wednesday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Tabetha Boyajin from Lousiana State University (KIC 8462852 is nicknamed Tabby's star in her honor) and over 200 other researchers used data collected by a network of ground-based telescopes and determined that the unusual changes in the star's light were cause by something that had nothing to do with an advanced alien civilization.

KIC 8462852 first came to the attention of the astronomy world thanks to NASA's Kepler spacecraft, which searches for planets around distant stars.

In reality, the star's odd dimming and brightening quality has a far more natural explanation.

While the new findings are a step in helping astronomers better understand what's causing the dips in the stars brightness, it still leaves many questions unanswered, such as what caused the dust in the first place.

So, while varying opinions as to what is causing the peculiar dips have been proposed over the past few years, a team of astrophysicists has now published what it believes to be the most likely answer - and it is sad news for those hopeful of extraterrestrial life being the cause.

Now Boyajian and her team are crunching through the data created by those ground telescopes to really get to grips with what the dust cloud looks like, if that really is what is blocking the light from Tabby's Star. A Kickstarter campaign quickly raised over $100,000 to get time on ground-based telescopes to extensively observe the star, which allowed the research to progress independent of the usual funding routes and lengthy grant timelines.

Scientists closely observed the star through the Las Cumbres Observatory from March 2016 to December 2017.

The truth is that, even though scientists now know that Tabby's Star's mysterious behavior is not the work of aliens, they're only marginally closer to explaining the interstellar puzzle.

We can probably put our hopes of meeting aliens on hold just a little bit longer.

This theory stems from the unique way in which the star suddenly dims and then brightens again.

In a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Tabetha Boyajian, an astronomer working at Louisiana State University, gave a statement as to the true cause for Tabby's star dimming.

"Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected from a planet or alien megastructure", said Boyajian. Earlier this year the star - which has been nicknamed "Tabby's Star" after Tabetha Boyajian who first documented its weird behavior - began dipping in brightness with no obvious explanation. Beginning in May 2017 there were four distinct episodes when the star's light dipped.

The initial discovery of the star was made with the help of Nasa's planet-hunting space telescope, known as Kepler. A recent historical analysis of Tabby's Star showed that changes to the object's overall brightness are on timescales lasting for years to centuries.

The Kepler telescope, data from which started all this excitement, has only surveyed less than a tenth of one per cent of the sky.

"The data that we have it shows that it has to be something that is semi-opaque; it's not completely opaque and you'd expect a Dyson's Sphere to be completely opaque and block the light out equally at all wavelengths", Boyajian said. "They're ancient; we are watching things that happened more than 1,000 years ago".

Boyajian said, "It's exciting".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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