A star known as KIC 8462852, or “Tabby’s Star,” is puzzling researchers with its curious light pattern, leading some to believe a giant alien structure to be responsible for its seemingly unexplainable pattern of dimming and brightening.
Now, the over 200 scientists tasked with studying the star — including Tabetha Boyajian, for whom the star is named — say they are a little closer to figuring out the unique burning ball of gas.
Experts say the star is about 50 percent bigger and 1,000 degrees hotter than our own sun and located roughly 1,000 light years away, according to science website phys.org., sitting as part of the Cygnus constellation.
The unusual nature of the star’s light curve is attracting scientists and amateurs alike, with regular updates on its fluctuations posted on YouTube and Reddit for the interested online community:
A star’s light curve can reportedly be used to tell us a lot about those bright specks in out night sky, from their chemical composition to their distance from us to their size.
The changes in light from Tabby’s Star were so strange to some of the team studying its characteristics, it led some people to believe an object orbited the star, like an alien megastructure.
Those supporting this theory postulated the giant bulk blocked out the star’s light, explaining the dips in brightness being recorded from ground-based telescopes.
Boyajian explains on a Kickstarter page she started how most stars experience regular dimming from planets passing in front of them, but Tabby’s Star stayed relatively constant, then losing around one-fifth of its total brightness, as well as displaying another unexplained series of weird drops in its light curve.
That Kickstarter page raised money for more observation time and the collection of more data on the star.
Results show the phenomenon is probably not an alien megastructure, and the next leading theory is attributed to space dust responsible for the star’s unheard-of dips in light output.
“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 said in an interview on the studies.
A volunteer citizen astronomers reportedly first discovered the star’s pattern though helping to sift through data from the Kepler mission, with stated goals to find new planets.
Scientists say they will continue to help with data analysis from Tabby’s Star as new hypotheses are tested.
Boyajian’s group think now, if dust isn’t responsible, it could be something, like exocomets, causing the light fluctuations.
Other astronomers think there is nothing blocking the star at all, simply brightening and dimming on its own.
For now, Tabby’s Star still holds the title of “the most mysterious star in the galaxy,” and Space City continues its upward gaze.