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The Most Mysterious Star in the Galaxy: Aliens or Comets?

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Astronomer may have discovered the most fascinating star of our time. At a minimum, the star is a complete mystery that demonstrates how much more we have to learn about the galaxy. At its wildest conclusion, the star, known as “Tabby’s Star” or “WTF” could be the first confirmation of alien activity.

Its scientific name is “KIC 8462852.” Scientists refer to it as Tabby’s star, after the Yale astronomer Boyajian. She herself refers to it as “Where’s the Flux,” abbreviated as WTF, which was a paper written by Boyajian that shocked the world with its conclusion that alien-engineered structures could be blocking the star, responsible for its sudden dimming.

WTF is 1,480 light-years away from Earth. A star that flickers and dims significantly is often sign that it is a young formation, still ejecting debris from its orbit. But all data, which has been repeatedly verified, suggests the opposite, that WTF is in fact a mature star. That’s why astronomers and alien enthusiasts floated the idea that actual structures, such as ships or domes, were built by alien civilizations.

 

The data was acknowledged by everyone to be strange an inexplicable. The paper described the problem thusly: why the WTF star is “irregularly shaped, [with] periodic dips in flux.” Speculation about alien structures seems like a big leap from that statement of the issue. However, astronomers are intrigued enough to start a project to get funding for more study.

They have started a Kickstarter to raise $100,000 to purchase a year’s worth of telescope time to collect more data. More than 1,700 backers fully funded the project, pledging $107,000.

Tabby’s star was discovered as part of the Kepler Telescope project, which is aimed at discovering planets. When volunteers sifted through the data, they found that Tabby’s star had dramatic dimming effects which defied easy explanation. They alerted the scientists who then spent years looking at the problem. The eventual paper on WTF concluded that there were many scenarios that could have caused the dimming, such as a planet with rings, dust clouds, multiple stellar companions, and a series of comets. The paper itself concluded that comet activity could have been the most probable reason for the mystery.

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Then scientists at SETI proposed an explanation involving “alien megastructures.” The resulting media firestorm created great interest in the star.

Since the project always involved the participation of amateur scientists, the research team has included a strong volunteer component for the Kickstarter. Backers will participate in some of the observations and calculations. SETI has aimed its powerful listening devices at the star but unfortunately, no radio signals or other signs from extraterrestrial beings.

At the same time, two new studies only increased the mystery, since they seemed to confirm the original hypothesis that something is very wrong with the star. According to LSU’s Brad Schaefer, the light output had diminished by 20% over 100 years. Although many disputed his findings, a new study suggests Schaefer was right. Caltech’s Ben Montec published a study concluding that the luminosity of the star varied significantly, at times by 20%. Furthermore, the overall flux seems to have diminished by 4%.

Whatever happens next, expect to see headlines about KIC 8462852 for years to come.

One Comment

  1. Mike says:

    Fascinating.

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