Saturday, 20 January, 2018

Mysterious dimming of Tabby's Star not caused by alien megastructure, study shows

Alien megastructures not causing'Tabby's Star weirdness says new research Alien megastructures not causing'Tabby's Star weirdness says new research
Kristine Garrett | 13 January, 2018, 00:06

While rumors of an alien megastructure, like a Dyson Sphere, began circulating, astronomers also came up with a multitude of more prosaic reasons for the star's behavior.

"Ground-based follow-up observations to better characterize the star revealed nothing other than KIC 8462852 being an ordinary, main-sequence F3 star: no peculiar spectral lines, Doppler shifts indicative of orbiting companions, or signs of youth such as an infrared excess". That always seemed a stretch, but given that Tabby's star is over 1,000 light years away, double-checking that hypothesis has proven a little tricky. "Larger dust that is created survived and remains on a circumstellar orbit spreading from its point of origin in a manner similar to comet dust tails, causing the secular dimming".

"If a solid, opaque object like a megastructure was passing in front of the star, it would block out light equally at all colours", says Boyajian, at Louisiana State University. But most of all, they're mysterious.

The objective of the study was to analyse the dips at all wavelengths because if they were all of near-equal measure, they would be caused by a physical structure, which includes the possibility of an alien megastructure. Still others believe that maybe nothing is actually blocking the star at all, and it just brightens and dims on its own - a possibility not ruled out by this new data.

Bottom line: The mysterious dimmings and brightenings of an otherwise ordinary star - called KIC 8462852, aka Tabby's Star or Boyajian's Star - is likely caused by dust, according to astronomer Tabetha Boyajian and her team. With this realisation, a few astronomers began whispering that such a signal would be the kind expected from a big extraterrestrial construction orbiting in front of the star - and the idea of the alien megastructure was born.

The team indeed found four episodes when the star's light dipped, beginning in May 2017.

Explaining the methodology, study coauthor Jason Wright from Penn State University said in the statement: "We were hoping that once we finally caught a dip happening in real time we could see if the dips were the same depth at all wavelengths". During the telescope's heyday, between 2009 and 2013, it stared at 150,000 stars, trying to spot these tiny changes, in the process identifying 2,341 exoplanets. It was after her that the star was nicknamed Tabby's star. Astronomer Tabetha Boyajian and her team from Louisiana State University were combing through Kepler's data and found that the spacecraft had observed this star and recorded its odd behavior.

'If they were almost the same, this would suggest that the cause was something opaque, like an orbiting disk, planet, or star, or even large structures in space. 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. "We're swimming in data", says Wright. Morris said he "pleaded" with those scheduled to use the telescope that late that night to get a few minutes of observing time. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that attracted support from more than 1,700 people and raised more than $100,000. Something unexplainable in some unexpected observation rather than a deliberate radio message to us is probably the way we are going to spot the presence of extraterrestrials - if they're out there in the first place, of course. "We can also say that these clouds are mostly transparent ('optically thin' in astrophysics parlance)".

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