Remember KIC 8462952? The star, also known as Tabby’s star, garnered huge amounts of interest in the media late last year, as people started speculating that a Dyson sphere or a different series of alien megastructures was being built around it. Although there were no actual signs of aliens, there was no way to prove that they weren’t there either.
In fact, people started to try just that – to prove that aliens had nothing to do with the series of strange light fluctuations which were picked up from the star. However, they couldn’t do this. Every single theory that could have explained why the light of Tabby’s star fluctuated as irregularly as it did fell through.
Some of these theories included a planetary collision, interstellar clumps of dust passing between us and the star, and the most plausible one of all – that a family of comets has been passing through the area. Nothing is a good enough explanation to tell us why the dips in the light of Tabby’s star fluctuate so irregularly.
Still, a recent discovery shows that the star is not as mysterious as originally believed. At first, along with the unexplained dipping light, a whopping twenty percent decrease in the star’s output was perceived. This further added to the idea that an advanced alien species was building a Dyson sphere around the star to harvest its power.
But it turns out that the perceived decreased output was only caused by the way the measurements were taken. The stills used to document the star’s activity started all the way back in 1885, when we didn’t have modern telescope technology. The decreased output never actually took place, instead simply being perceived so by our technological shift.
This is what Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun, a study collaborator, had to say:
Whenever you are doing archival research that combines information from a number of different sources, there are bound to be data precision limits that you must take into account. In this case, we looked at variations in the brightness of a number of comparable stars in the DASCH database and found that many of them experienced a similar drop in intensity in the 1960’s. That indicates the drops were caused by changes in the instrumentation not by changes in the stars’ brightness.
Of course, experts considered that maybe the irregular dips were also caused by a measurement error, but after going through all the data once more, that theory was also proven wrong. Still, even with the output decrease out of the way, the mystery of Tabby’s star remains unresolved.
Image source: Flickr