A mysterious star thought to be orbited by an alien megastructure has had scientists intrigued with its sporadic brightening and dimming. Scientists now find that space dust could be the likely reason for the star's unusual behavior.
'Alien Megastructure' Theory Debunked
KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian or Tabby's star, is a pretty normal star that doesn't differ too much from our own Sun. It is just slightly larger and a thousand degrees hotter. However, scientists have been baffled by the star's unusual dimming and brightening behavior for years so much so that some have theorized that it could be orbited by an alien megastructure that causes the sporadic behavior.
However, a new study finds that dust is the likeliest reason for the star's brightening and dimming. Contrary to the alien megastructure theory, the scientists found that the light from the star dims at different intensities, suggesting that what is blocking it is not opaque, hence it's not very likely to be a megastructure or even a planet.
Even More Interesting And Mysterious
Since March 2016, researchers observed Tabby's star with the help of the Las Cumbres Observatory. From May 2017, there were four observed dimming episodes, which were named Elsie, Celeste, and after equally ancient and mysterious "lost" cities Scara Brae and Angkor. The latter were named as such because these dimming events they observed are actually from over a thousand years ago but are only being seen from where we are now.
These findings are in line with a previous study published in The Astrophysical Journal just last October, which reported a similar explanation for Tabby's star's dimming episodes, pointing to interstellar dust as the likely culprit.
Before then, the theories for the sporadic behavior include the popular alien megastructure theory, the possibility of the star being surrounded by a swarm of comets, and even the possibility of the dimming episodes being caused by the star eating a planet.
Thanks To Citizen Scientists
Even as they debunked the alien megastructure theory, researchers are glad to be gathering so much data on the star, especially with the help of citizen scientists who observed the unusual dimmings in the first place.
"If it wasn't for people with an unbiased look on our universe, this unusual star would have been overlooked," said Tabetha Boyajian, lead of the study and inspiration for the star's name.
The current study is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and was a result of the team work of over a hundred researchers.