Move over, Tabby … there’s a new flickering star in town and this one behaves a lot more like it has a megastructure built around it than you do. Astronomers in Chile report finding a mysterious star whose light dims by 80 percent on an irregular schedule and they can’t figure out why. An alien Dyson sphere? Dust? Aliens cleaning house and kicking up a dust cloud?
“We don’t know what the object is. And that’s interesting.”
Astronomer Roberto Saito of the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil is the co-author of a study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describing VVV-WIT-07, “an unique and intriguing variable source presenting a sequence of recurrent dips with a likely deep eclipse in July 2012.” The title of the study implies that this star could be another Boyajian’s star (astronomer Tabby Boyajian discovered the blinking KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s star) or a Mamajek’s object (astronomer Eric Mamajek found 1SWASP J140747, a star that dims due to a massive orbiting gas planet with rings). However, the data is inclusive and they speculate whether it could also be a young stellar object, a star surrounded by clumpy dust structure, a main sequence star eclipsed by a nearby extended object or a self-eclipsing R CrB (R Coronae Boreali) variable star.
Or … it could be a star surrounded by an alien-made Dyson sphere. While hypothetical, the idea of a megastructure surrounding a star and harvesting its energy for space travel, manufacturing or other energy-consuming activities, received a lot of speculative press when Tabby Boyajian discovered her blinker in 2015.
“I was fascinated by how crazy it looked. Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, was one of the leading proponents of at least considering a Dyson megastructure as a possibility for causing the dimming of Tabby’s star. Each time anything that looks like a blinking star appears, that possibility is brought up, scoffed at by skeptics and pushed by believers, as hypothetical as it might be. However, VVV-WIT-07 is a puzzler, which explains why the WIT in its name stands for “What is this?”
The puzzle starts with the amount of dimming. While Tabby’s star darkened by 20%, VVV-WIT-07 nearly disappears as it dims by 80%. It also dims more sporadically than KIC 8462852. When asked for her opinion on this blinking star, Boyajian, who openly considered the possibility of a Dyson megastructure, said in ScienceNews:
“If this phenomenon is the same as what’s happening with Tabby’s star, then we can’t invoke an elaborate explanation for what’s happening in both systems. If you’re starting to see stars similar to this all over the place, then it’s got to be a really common thing that happens in nature. That’s really cool.”
Not as cool as a Dyson megastructure, right?
“Pretty much everything’s on the table for it right now. We need more data.”
Saito promised to provide her with more when he can look at his star again using the larger 8.1-meter Gemini telescope or the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile.
Dyson? Dust? Damn planet blocking the light? An advanced but bored alien civilization messing with the rest of the universe by playing with a giant dimmer switch?
“Pretty much everything’s on the table for it right now.”