Scientists blame dust not aliens for mysterious flickering of 'Alien Megastructure' star

Pat Wise
January 12, 2018

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.

The most mysterious star located in the constellation of Cygnus, approximately 1400 light-years from the Sun, has repeatedly spurred alien megastructure theories.

A Kickstarter campaign ginned up enough interest that 1,700 people donated more than $100,000 to fund the gathering of more data on the star, which allowed Boyajian and her team to publish a new paper explaining a new theory.

The study reported that whatever substance exists amidst the Earth and Tabby's Star has the capacity to block more blue light than the red one. "If you have something that is completely opaque like a planet, you would expect all the colors of the light to be blocked out at the same levels". "Instead, [we find] that the blue dips are much deeper - about twice as deep - as they are when we look at infrared wavelengths. the dips are not caused by opaque macroscopic objects (like megastructures or planets or stars) but by clouds of very small particles of dust (less than 1 micron in typical size)". From March 2016 to December 2017, astronomers at the Las Cumbres Observatory watched with telescopes all over the world, observing four of its weird dips. While an alien civilization may not be lurking around this otherwise unremarkable star, KIC 8462852 will continue to retain some of its mystery a little longer. The planets were identified when they passed in front of their parent stars, causing a dip in their brightness. But, he added, "some astronomers favor the idea that nothing is blocking the star-that it just gets dimmer on its own-and this also is consistent with this summer's data". In all, almost 2,000 people were involved in the survey, the results of which have now been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. That instrument is created to hunt exoplanets by looking for the small dips in brightness that occur when a planet passes between its star and the telescope. "Again, without the public support for this dedicated observing run, we would not have this large amount of data". "They're nearly certainly caused by something ordinary, at least on a cosmic scale", researchers said.

In that time they recorded four more dips, though none were as dramatic as the originals, reaching only a percent or two. But most of all, they're mysterious.

Now there are more answers to be found.

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"This latest research rules out alien megastructures, but it raises the plausibility of other phenomena being behind the dimming", Dr. 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.

Davenport, who did separate research on Tabby's Star in late 2017 and was among those who Boyajian notified, said his contribution was mostly alerting Morris, whose expertise in observational astronomy made him "the flawless person for doing the follow-up".

As the team prepares for this next phase, Ellis is keen to point out that this work was made possible only because of the "trust and generosity" of the Kickstarter backers and the contributions of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists.

"It's quite humbling to have all of these people contributing in various ways to help figure it out".

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