Cosmic dust, not 'alien megastructure', veils star

Science								Image Source NASA  JPL

Variable star KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby's Star and Boyajian's Star, is located more than 1,000 light years from Earth.

Looking at the photometric and spectroscopic data, the researchers were able to rule out an alien megastructure (such as a sun-enveloping Dyson sphere), while affirming a theory proposing that the star is surrounded by ordinary space dust.

The new findings come after more than 1,700 people donated over $100,000 to a Kickstarter campaign supporting further observations of the star, so compelling was the mystery surrounding it.

This isn't the first time researchers have put forward the idea that dust is responsible for the dimming of Tabby's Star.

The goal was to observe more dips in brightness, as well as to probe the star's light output across the visible spectrum and in infrared, to see if different wavelengths were being blocked at different times. Normally, planets can block starlight as they pass in front of the star.

In a paper published in the year 2015, a renowned astrophysicist Tabetha Boyajian described the dips in the light emitted by the star. Supporters from the crowdfunding campaign nominated and voted to name these episodes. After the four dips (collectively known as Elsie, which is derived from the "LC" of Las Cumbres Observatory, the most generous Kickstarter backer), the star exhibited unusual and unexpected brightening for a couple of months. The last two were named after ancient lost cities - Scotland's Scara Brae and Cambodia's Angkor.

The new analysis of KIC 8462852 showing these results is to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. It's an otherwise average star, about 1,250 light-years away, in the constellation Cygnus, and is about 40 percent more massive than the sun and about four times brighter. They're nearly certainly caused by something ordinary, at least on a cosmic scale. And yet that makes them more interesting, not less.


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.

Weirdly, at first the dips hadn't caught the attention of computers poring through Kepler's data-they went unnoticed until a team of citizen scientists chose to see if there was anything the automated searching might be missing (the same team has identified missing planets that way as well). The online citizen science group Planet Hunters was established so that volunteers could help to classify light curves from the Kepler mission and to search for such planets. But Boyajian said, that with more observations, it's possible more of these strangely behaving stars may be found. "Again, without the public support for this dedicated observing run, we would not have this large amount of data".

Now there are more answers to be found.

Even though the researchers have dismissed the idea of any alien megastructure as the reason for dimming, "it raises the plausibility of other phenomena being behind the dimming", Wright said.

"Our data are inconsistent with dip models that invoke optically thick material, but rather they are in-line with predictions for an occulter consisting primarily of ordinary dust, where much of the material must be optically thin", they write.

The new results are consistent with those of another research group, which late past year concluded that Tabby's star is likely orbited by a cloud of dust that completes one lap every 700 Earth days.

"Boyajian said", The scientists probed the Elsie sequence in multiple color bands.

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