Mysterious dimming of Tabby's star likely due to space dust, not alien superstructures, say scientists
Saturday, January 6, 2018
On Wednesday, a team of over 200 scientists led by astronomerannounced the mysterious dim-and-recover behavior of stellar object , also called "Boyajian's Star" or "Tabby's Star," is likely to be due to clouds of color-warping space dust and not a planet, another star or, as some astronomers have hypothesized, a giant structure built by a distant civilization.
"If a solid, opaque object like a megastructure was passing in front of the star, it would block out light equally at all colors," Dr. Boyajian told the press. "This is contrary to what we observe." And, in a separate statement, "Dust is most likely the reason why the star's light appears to dim and brighten. The new data shows that different colors of light are being blocked at different intensities. Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected from a planet or alien megastructure."
The research team analyzed 22 months of data collected by an array of ground-based telescopes that covered many wavelengths of light. The study period lasted from March 2016 to December 2017, which included a number of decreases in brightness. The first dip started on the night of Thursday May 18. A robotic 14-inch Arizona watched lose brightness by a dramatic 3% by Friday, confirming a prediction the star would undergo its unusual dimming events once every 750 days. Other major telescope projects and citizen astronomers confirmed these findings. That dip was complex and continued through to the following Sunday, after a brief rise in brightness over the weekend. It ended a few days later, with Boyajian and fellow astronomer and co-author of the recent paper Jason Wright discussing the phenomena with the public via Twitter: "will we have a flurry of dips to come? Stay tuned!"telescope at in
|The new data shows that different colors of light are being blocked at different intensities. Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque.|
—Dr. Tabetha Boyajian of the University of Louisiana
"Tabby's star[...] went through a lot of very strange dimming events that got up to 22% dimmer during the Kepler Mission, and since then we've been eagerly awaiting another dip. And the reason that we’ve been waiting for that is that whatever is causing the star to get dimmer will leave a spectral fingerprint behind," said Dr. Jason Wright of Pennsylvania State University, after the May event, now a co-author of the current work. "So if it's a lot of dust between us and the star that's passing by, it should block more blue light than red light. If there's gas in that dust, that gas should absorb very specific wavelengths. So we've been eager to see one of these changes, these dips in the star, so we can take the spectra." He also addressed space fans at the time via Twitter: "ALERT:@tsboyajian's star is dipping This is not a drill. Astro tweeps on telescopes in the next 48 hours: spectra please!"
The primary mission of the Kepler project monitored more than 150,000 stars with the primary goal of detecting exoplanets. If a star gets dimmer but then recovers, a planet may have passed in front of it. But Tabby's star has shown something else. An exoplanet can cause its sun to dim by perhaps 1% and not for very long. Some of Tabby's dips have been this mild, but others have hit 20% and lasted weeks. It also tends to recover only partially, slowly showing a net dimming over the years.
The plethora of hypotheses behind Tabby's star has made it a favorite among space fans and both professional and amateur astronomers. Space dust was one of the many hypothesized explanations, but if that's the reason, its origin was and remains a mystery with stargazers speculating many giant comets could be on elliptical orbits or breaking up in front of it or the dips in brightness could be aftereffects of the star. Some even hypothesized alien civilizations might have been harvesting the sun's energy using a . The (SETI) devoted some observation time to Tabby's star in the fall of 2016 as part of the project. No radio or laser pulse signals were detected.
"This latest research rules out alien megastructures, but it raises the plausibility of other phenomena being behind the dimming," said Dr. Wright. "There are models involving circumstellar material — like exocomets, which were Boyajian's team's original hypothesis — which seem to be consistent with the data we have [...] some astronomers favor the idea that nothing is blocking the star — that it just gets dimmer on its own — and this also is consistent with this summer's data."
This study is a departure from many previous works in that it relies heavily on the work of citizen scientists, volunteers who help examine the great quantities of data produced by NASA's Kepler mission. The follow-up observations after the Kepler project were funded by a $100,000to continuously monitor Tabby's star. The unusual behavior of Tabby's star was discovered in 2011 by volunteers for the citizen science project, which was implemented to search for planets in the Kepler data.
"It's exciting. I am so appreciative of all of the people who have contributed to this in the past year — the citizen scientists and professional astronomers. It's quite humbling to have all of these people contributing in various ways to help figure it out," Dr. Boyajian said in a statement.
- Nadia Drake. "Mystery of 'Alien Megastructure' Star Has Been Cracked" — , January 3, 2018
- John Bochanski. "New Observations of the “Most Mysterious Star in the Galaxy”" — , January 3, 2018
- Joel Ranck. "Alien megastructure not the cause of dimming of the 'most mysterious star in the universe'" — , January 3, 2018
Sources for May 2017 event
- Matt Williams. "The Star That Probably Doesn't Have an Alien Megastructure (But Maybe it Does) is Dimming Again" — , May 20, 2017
- Monica Young. "Finally! The Galaxy’s Most Mysterious Star Is Dipping" — , May 19, 2017
- Matt Williams, Universe Today. "Finally, an explanation for the "alien megastructure?"" — , January 12, 2017
Minor Sources for May 2017 event
- Tabetha Boyajian. "Tweet: will we have a flurry of dips to come? Stay tuned!" — , May 21, 2017
- Jason Wright. "Tweet: Latest photometry from last night; this event seems to have ended, but remember than in Q16 they came in clumps." — , May 21, 2017
- Tabetha Boyajian (Louisiana State), Steve Croft (UC Berkeley), Jason Wright (Penn State), Andrew Siemion (UC Berkeley), Matthew Muterspaugh (Tennessee State), Michael Siegel (Penn State), Bruce Gary (amateur), Shelley Wright (UCSD), Jerome Maire (UCSD), Andres Duenas (UCSD), Clayton Hultgren (UCSD), JonJohn Ramos (UCSD). "A Drop in Optical Flux from Boyajian's Star" — , May 21, 2017
- Tabetha S. Boyajian, Roi Alonso, Alex Ammerman, David Armstrong, A. Asensio Ramos, K. Barkaoui, Thomas G. Beatty, Z. Benkhaldoun, Paul Benni, Rory Bentley, Andrei Berdyugin, Svetlana Berdyugina, Serge Bergeron, Allyson Bieryla, Michaela G. Blain, Alicia Capetillo Blanco, Eva H. L. Bodman, Anne Boucher, Mark Bradley, Stephen M. Brincat, Thomas G. Brink, John Briol, David J. A. Brown, J.Budaj, A. Burdanov, B. Cale, Miguel Aznar Carbo, R. Castillo Garcia, Wendy J Clark, Geoffrey C. Clayton, James L. Clem, Phillip H Coker, Evan M. Cook, Chris M. Copperwheat, J. Curtis, R. M. Cutri, B. Cseh, C. H. Cynamon, Alex J. Daniels, James R. A. Davenport, Hans J. Deeg, Roberto De Lorenzo, Thomas De Jaeger, Jean-Bruno Desrosiers, John Dolan, D. J. Dowhos, Franky Dubois, R. Durkee, Shawn Dvorak, Lynn Easley, et al. (156 additional authors not shown). "The First Post-Kepler Brightness Dips of KIC 8462852" — , January 2, 2018
- "Planet Hunters - the citizen science project to search for new planets, which discovered Tabby's star" — ,
- "Tabetha Boyajian twitter feed - for the latest updates on Tabby's star" — ,
- "KIC 8462852 subreddit to discuss Tabby's star with enthusiasts" — ,
- Tabetha Boyajian. "Update on Tabby's Star (KIC8462852): Q&A with Professor Tabby Boyajian 5/21/17" — , May 21, 2017
- Jason Wright. "Where's the Flux? - Jason Wright's original article where he discusses the megastructure hypothesis in some detail" — , January 12, 2017
- Jason Wright. "What We’ve Learned About Boyajian’s Star I: Background" — , January 3, 2018
- Phil Plait @BadAstronomer. "TABBY’S STAR: SORRY, FOLKS, BUT IT *REALLY* ISN'T ALIENS" — , January 3, 2018