In what might be regarded as something of a space bummer, scientists have concluded that the odd stellar phenomenon known as Tabby's Star is not evidence of an orbiting alien megastructure. Well, probably not.
You might remember the excitement from a few years back: A team of professional and citizen scientists from the Planet Hunters project were sorting through data from NASA's Kepler space telescope. It appeared that the star KIC 8462852, which lies more than 1,000 light-years from Earth, was sending out irregular light fluctuations that couldn't be explained away by the usual suspects: orbiting planets or moons, for example.
In other words, something was causing a shadow to appear intermittently between Earth and the remote star located in the Cygnus constellation. All the cosmic weirdness sparked the imagination of both amateur and professional researchers, who proposed explanations ranging from rogue comets to black holes. Among the scientific theories that gained traction: Tabby's Star could be home to an alien megastructure that occasionally blocks the star's light from reaching Earth.
Alas, new evidence published this week suggests the light fluctuations are almost certainly caused by random space dust. The research was led by Louisiana State University astronomer Tabetha Boyajian — the Tabby of Tabby's Star — who also served as lead author on the original research describing the star.
"Dust is most likely the reason why the star's light appears to dim and brighten,” Boyajian said in a statement released with the new research, published Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “New data shows that different colors of light are being blocked at different intensities. Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected from a planet or alien megastructure."