The mysterious star with the catchy nickname that refuses to explain itself just got a little more mysterious … and a lot dimmer. Data on KIC 8462852 – aka Tabby’s Star, aka the star that might be surrounded by a Dyson sphere – was analyzed by another set of astronomers and they noticed a 200-day period where it dimmed drastically in comparison to other times. Did the aliens sucking power from the star via the sphere need an emergency energy boost? Did something else temporarily block it from our view? Is this proof it’s some new kind of star? Or what?
KIC 8462852 was nicknamed Tabby’s Star after its discoverer, astronomer Tabetha Boyajian. The erratic behavior of its light, especially the constant dimming, caused speculation that it was partially or fully surrounded by a so-called Dyson sphere of panels absorbing its energy to be used by an alien species for fuel. Farfetched but not yet eliminated as an explanation.
According to a new study, Caltech astronomer Ben Montet and Joshua Simon of the Carnegie Institute measured the light from the star recorded by the Kepler satellite observatory over four years. The dimming occurred at a steady rate of around 0.34 percent per year for about the first thousand days of observation. At that point, the dimming increased dramatically to an annual rate of 2.5 percent for the next 200 days. It then returned to the 0.34 rate for the duration of the Kepler observation. Montet said in an interview with Gizmodo:
The part that really surprised me was just how rapid and non-linear it was. We spent a long time trying to convince ourselves this wasn’t real.
But it was. What caused the sudden drop in light? Suspecting some cosmic mass (comets, thick dust cloud) may have passed in front of Kepler, Montet and Simon checked the brightness of 500 surround stars and found that only KIC 8462852 took a dip. That means the cause is either in front of, around or inside of Tabby’s Star.
Well, that narrows it down, doesn’t it?
These results introduce us to another delightfully unexpected piece of the puzzle.
Tabetha Boyajian has set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding program to raise enough money to use the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network for a year to watch her namesake and catch it in the act of flickering, dimming, Dyson sphere construction, starship fueling or whatever else it might be.
We will keep you all in the loop as things progress, and will soon send out surveys to gather information for reward fulfillment.
What would Galileo think of a Dyson sphere? Would crowdfunding have saved him from church persecution?