Puzzles are fun to solve, and some stars can lead confusing scientific agents on an entertaining chase to solve their endless mesmerizing mysteries. Such a perplexing star is KIC 8462852, commonly referred to as Tabby’s Star. This unusual stellar resident of our Milky Way Galaxy is an F-type main-sequence star located in the constellation Cygnus, roughly 1,280 light-years from Earth. Citizen astronomers discovered weird fluctuations in the light gushing out from Tabby’s Star as part of the Planet Hunter’s project. In other words, Tabby’s Star presents strange dips in brightness, and explorers can’t seem to figure out the reason.
In September 2015, an enticing account of these mysterious fluctuations suggested an alien megastructure’s possible existence orbiting this undeniably bewitching star. Aliens? Really? Maybe. Maybe not.
Here’s are possible explanations to fluctuations:
- Ringed planet: Research has suggested clusters of asteroids and a ringed planet orbit Tabby’s, causing the unusual dimming behavior. Noticing a star’s changing brightness, as seen from Earth, is a widespread technique (the transit method) for discovering exoplanets. In theory, when any planet crosses its parent star, witnesses on Earth would see a momentary dip in brightness.
- Uneven ring of dust: The unusual dips in the star’s brightness are likely caused by the dust surrounding the star. However, recent data from NASA’s Spitzer and Swift space telescopes revealed that the star’s dimming was more evident in ultraviolet than infrared, suggesting that any particles surrounding the star could not be larger dust grain. Otherwise, the dimming would appear uniform across all wavelengths.
- Triple-star system: Many accounts have focused on some large object (possibly a planet) circling the star. The Kepler space telescope was created to look for differences in brightness around stars. This type of operation often indicates that an exoplanet may be crossing its star’s face, like a mini-eclipse. However, a planet alone would cause only a tiny but observable decrease in brightness. Instead, experts have proposed that a more extensive, star-size object could orbit Tabby’s star, causing the climactic dips in brightness. Multistar systems have been seen in the universe — but if this were the case for Tabby’s star, its orbiting companion star would exert an apparent gravitational force, and investigators have found no proof of that to date.
- Comet Invasion: Scientists have hypothesized that the altering brightness of KIC 8462852 could be due to thousands of comets passing in front of the star. A massive swarm of rocky debris circling the star could block enough light and cause the abnormal dimming. But, there is no evidence.
- Glitch: A straightforward explanation for this particular star’s irregularities would be a glitch in the Kepler space telescope. However, experts have ruled out this possibility because data from the probe is the same, regardless of which of the telescope’s detectors observed the star, according to NASA’s announcement.
What do you think? An alien megastructure? Comet Invasion? Triple-star system? A ringed planet? Or just small grains of dust? What could be the possible explanation for Tabby’s Star fluctuations?