KIC 8462852 — also known as Boyajian’s Star, Tabby’s Star, or the “alien megastructure star” — has gained much interest and attention from astronomers around the world because of its unusual light fluctuations. Located in the Cygnus constellation nearly 1,300 light years from the Earth, the said star regularly loses its luminosity, only to revert to its original brightness after a certain period of time. In short, the star flickers. And this weird phenomenon has not been observed in any other star, which is what makes it so excitingly mysterious.
Using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, the flickering of Tabby’s Star was first detected in September 2015 by a team of volunteers led by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian (for whom the star was named after). And now, it’s doing it again.
As reported by Space.com, scientists all over the world were alerted to the situation by Jason Wright — an associate professor of astronomy at the Pennsylvania State University who is also managing a study of Boyajian’s star — during a live webcast on May 22nd. He received a phone call from the Fairborn Observatory in Arizona confirming that Boyajian’s star has once again exhibited its unusual behavior and was observed to be ‘3 percent dimmer than it normally is’.
With the return of the perplexing event, amateur and professional astronomers alike have become more determined than ever to understand the star’s puzzling behavior and solve the question of why it behaves the way it does. Triggering the request to ‘turn as many telescopes as possible toward the star, to try and crack the mystery of its behavior’, some of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes are now focused on Tabby’s Star, including the twin 10-meter telescopes at the W.H. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Automated Planet Finder telescope at Lick Observatory in California through the Breakthrough Listen Initiative — deemed to be the most powerful and comprehensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.
Scientists have formulated a number of hypotheses that attempt to explain the star’s unusual behavior. The most common hypothesis suggests that nearby planets have broken apart and that fragments of planetary material are blocking the view from Earth. Another popular hypothesis suggests that swarms of comets passing in front of the star cause it to dim. And of course, there’s the alien theory proposing that the dimming (which was up to 20% at one point) is being caused by an alien megastructure orbiting around the star, collecting its energy.
The fact that there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to Tabby’s Star’s flickering is what’s making the explanation for it quite elusive. Which is exactly why its present flickering is quite significant. With so many scientists focused on it, there’s a better chance of figuring out what’s causing its behavior.
At the very least, the star’s luminosity can be observed using different colors and light spectra, which can then provide us with a clearer picture of the types of chemicals present when the flickering occurs, or even the characteristics of the objects or materials blocking the star’s light.
Whatever the answer behind this star mystery turns out to be, the world will surely be waiting. And scientists will be watching.