Science

New Data Finally Reveals That, No, There Is No Alien Megastructure

New Data Finally Reveals That, No, There Is No Alien Megastructure”

The unusual brightening and dimming behaviour of KIC 8462852, famously known as the Tabby's Star, buffled scientists for years.

It's the most solid solution yet that astronomers have come up with for this star's odd ways. Tabby's star is said to be 50% larger and 1,000 degrees hotter than our own sun. It's about 50 per cent larger than our Sun, and almost 1,000 degrees hotter.

It appears as if the weird dimming of Tabby's star is due to space dust rather than some sort of extraterrestrial structure.

Now the scientist who made this suggestion has unveiled data about "the most mysterious star in the universe" from a probe funded using $100,000 raised in a Kickstarter campaign.

It's not aliens, but Tabby's Star remains a puzzle to astronomers.

Astronomers hadn't seen anything quite like it before, leading to a stream of theories. Many possibilities have been suggested, including everything from swarms of shattered comets to black holes, reports Nadia Drake for National Geographic. They paid over $100,000 for the privilege to study the star in closer detail and their observations were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters this week. Beginning in May 2017 there were four distinct episodes when the star's light dipped.

The four dips were recorded from May to the end of December and were named Elsie, Celeste, Skara Brae and Angkor. Several theories abound to explain the star's unusual light patterns, including that an alien megastructure is orbiting the star.

Artist's impression of a Dyson sphere.

The whole megastructure drama was born a couple years ago when a researcher offered that explanation along with other more pedestrian (and natural) ideas for why the star was dimming and brightening. As researcher Tyler Ellis tells Guarino, "We are certainly not done with this star yet". "This would result in an overall dimming of the star without selectively absorbing particular colours". "Could be more than 10 percent of stars to account for us catching one in the act, which is also curious". "This has the effect of reddening the stellar spectrum".

The evidence points most strongly to a giant cloud of dust occasionally obscuring the star. "Without the public support for this dedicated observing run, we would not have this large amount of data", Boyajian says in a press release. "We need to search at longer wavelengths in order to better constrain this though". As speculated earlier, the reason behind this flickering isn't aliens but possibly a cloud of fine dust which surrounds the star with particles that are finer than a micrometer in surface area.

"If there were opaque objects blocking our view of the light, the star should get equally dim at all wavelengths, "he wrote at his blog". The dips in the weird star's light are nearly definitely caused by a ring of dust, not a huge opaque object between us and the star.

"It was kind of surreal in a way to watch it happen in real time and be able to do what we have been saying we wanted to do for years: observe it in a dip", she says.

But this mystery is far from over.

Though the explanation of circumstellar dust seems likely, it was nonetheless elusive until the most recent data was considered. However, dust is the only feasible and practical explanation crafted by the researchers for this mysterious star.

It's exciting. I am so appreciative of all of the people who have contributed to this in the past year - the citizen scientists and professional astronomers.

"We have discovered that the surface of 'Oumuamua is similar to small solar system bodies that are covered in carbon-rich ices, whose structure is modified by exposure to cosmic rays", said study lead Alan Fitzsimmons. So do the agencies that normally decide which projects deserve money.



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