The consistently perplexing and always fascinating KIC 8462852, also known as “Boyajian’s Star,” is up to its old tricks again. The mysterious celestial body is once again displaying its trademark pattern of dimming and brightening.
At about 4 in the morning on May 19, scientists got a call asking them to point their telescopes toward the star in an effort to help solve the mystery once and for all.
“At about 4 a.m. this morning I got a phone call … that Fairborn [Observatory] in Arizona had confirmed that the star was 3 percent dimmer than it normally is,” said Jason Wright, an associate professor of astronomy at Pennsylvania State University, who is in charge of a study on the mysterious star. “That is enough that we are absolutely confident that this is no statistical fluke. We’ve now got it confirmed at multiple observatories, I think.”
ALERT:@tsboyajian‘s star is dipping
This is not a drill.
Astro tweeps on telescopes in the next 48 hours: spectra please!
— Jason Wright (@Astro_Wright) May 19, 2017
Also known as “Tabby’s Star” in honor of astronomer Tabetha Boyajian who led the team that first discovered it, KIC 8462852 is odd in that its fluctuations don’t follow any regular pattern. It was first discovered by use of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which was actually designed to search for similar fluctuations in a star’s brightness.
Normally, these changes in brightness are caused by planets moving in front of the star. In fact, the reason the Kepler Telescope was invented in the first place was to help astronomers discover new worlds. However, the star’s habit of dimming and brightening doesn’t appear to follow any sort of regular set pattern, which is what should happen if it was the result of a planet’s orbit.
A Range Of Theories
Scientists have proposed a number of theories regarding the star’s strange behavior. Some have speculated that it is the result of the star absorbing a planet, which would have caused it to brighten before slowly returning to its original brightness.
Another theory is that Tabby’s Star isn’t even a star at all, but rather some sort of alien artifact. Those scientists speculate that the object is a kind of of communications device. For others, the irregularity in KIC 8462852’s light patterns suggests that there are alien megastructures orbiting it.
Another more mundane theory is that the star’s light fluctuations are the result of magnetic interference.
As of now, no single theory has emerged to unify the scientific community, which is why they are so interested in studying this object. Someone will figure it out eventually, but for now, what’s really going on with KIC 8462852 is anyone’s guess.