That alien megastructure star? Eh, it’s probably just some cosmic dust
More than 100 researchers have released a study showing that the mysterious star KIC 8462852, better known as Tabby’s Star, is almost certainly not surrounded by a structure built by a technologically advanced alien civilization.
In reality, the star’s odd dimming and brightening quality has a far more natural explanation.
“Dust is most likely the reason why the star’s light appears to dim and brighten,” astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, who the star is nicknamed for, explained in a statement about the study published in the The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“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 scientists behind the new study peered at the star, which is more than 1,000 light-years away, using the Las Cumbres Observatory over the course of more than a year.
That observing run, which lasted from March 2016 to December 2017, was made possible thanks to Kickstarter funding, according to the researchers.
About 1,700 people donated more than $100,000 to the program in order to gather more data about Tabby’s Star and figure out exactly what its deal is, according to the statement.
“If it wasn’t for people with an unbiased look on our universe, this unusual star would have been overlooked,” Boyajian added. “Again, without the public support for this dedicated observing run, we would not have this large amount of data.”
This isn’t the first time researchers have put forward the idea that dust is responsible for the dimming of Tabby’s Star.
Another study in the Astrophysical Journal found that a ring of dust could easily explain the star’s strange and apparently random behavior.
The whole megastructure drama was born a couple years ago when a researcher offered that explanation along with other more pedestrian (and natural) ideas for why the star was dimming and brightening.
That said, if it weren’t for the megastructure explanation, it’s pretty unlikely that nearly 2,000 people would have donated money to study the star in this kind of detail.
So hey, maybe a little accidental “it’s aliens” hype paid off in some small way in the end.