Astronomers have discovered another one of those mysterious Dyson stars – a star whose unusual and frequent dimming led to speculation that aliens have surrounded it with a so-called Dyson sphere to collect its energy for who knows what purpose but you know it can’t be good because they’re aliens. Now there’s at least two of them. Can we be annihilated twice?
Actually, we may not have to worry about either one, according to research on EPIC 204278916, a newly-discovered star similar to the famous Tabby’s Star (KIC 8462852) in its dimming behavior and low mass. Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel points out in his article in Forbes magazine that the Dyson sphere explanation for Tabby’s Star’s strange behavior came only after all other possible causes had been eliminated. In the article, he poses another one based on the idea that both are special kinds of stars known as Young Stellar Objects.
Young Stellar Objects (YSOs) are known to have the large flux dips that this weird star has, and they’ve recently been shown to come in a variety of inclination angles.
The “inclination angle” is the key to this new theory. It refers to a protoplanetary disk – a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas and dust that typically surrounds young stars. EPIC 204278916 is estimated to be 11 million years old – a baby in star years. Protoplanetary disks emit infrared light that should be visible to infrared scanners … unless the disk is tilted at an odd angle that makes them invisible.
The researchers call this an “edge-on” orientation and used NASA’s Wise satellite to confirm that EPIC 204278916’s is inclined at 57 degrees to Earth’s line of sight, plus or minus 9 degrees. Assuming the existence of a protoplanetary disk that can be invisible, the occasional dips or dimmings in the light could then be caused by either a warped inner disk area or comet-like debris in an outer disk area.
In the case of EPIC 204278916, the dimming is greater, more frequent and regular – happening once every 25 days – while KIC 8462852’s fluctuations occur over a period of several years. Still, they are similar enough that Tabby’s Star might also be a “Young Stellar Object,” which would explain its strange light fluctuations and kill the ‘Star surrounded by an energy-sucking Dyson sphere controlled by aliens’ theory.
While we wait for more evidence, consider that Young Stellar Objects would be a great name for a band whose first album is called “It’s An Edge-On Orientation, Stupid!”