Astronomers have been pondering what makes the star, with the catchy name of KIC 8462852, dim and flicker so drastically for years. Thankfully it started doing so again Friday with astronomers being able to view the phenomenon in real time.
— Tabetha Boyajian (@tsboyajian) May 19, 2017
— Tyler Ellis (@astro_ellis) May 19, 2017
KIC 8462852, also known as ‘Tabby’s Star,’ lurks at the far reaches of our Milky Way galaxy, around 1,300 light years away in the constellation Cygnus.
— Matt Wachter (@Matthew_Wachter) May 19, 2017
Though first discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope in 2009, it first caught people’s imagination in 2011 when a group of “citizen scientists” – volunteers helping the real deal scientists find exoplanets – noticed the strange light patterns coming from Tabby’s Star. During one observation, the light emitted dimmed by over 20 percent, meaning that something must be passing in front of it.
Just what that something is remains a mystery, with suggestions involving comets, or vast gas clouds being mooted, while others still believe it could be aliens.
One such believer is Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright who, along with Tabetha Boyajian, after whom the star is named, is among the scientists trying to solve the enigma.
Wright and others believe that the irregular light patterns could suggest a host of alien megastructures orbiting the star. What their purpose is, if they do indeed exist, is also a mystery but the most obvious explanation would be that a super-advanced alien civilization has built technology to harness energy from it.
One such megastructure, for example, is the ‘Dyson Sphere’ a theoretical construct which engulfs and draws energy from a star. First hypothesized in 1937 by science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon, it was popularised in 1960 by theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson.
Though it may sound fantastical, it can’t be proven otherwise and the answer still eludes scientists. As they say, “the truth is out there.”