Thursday


One of the most fascinating attributes of science is that it keeps challenging our understandings of the universe as new ideas and concepts are constantly being introduced either to refine already existing theories or to dismiss past knowledge and build new notions from scratch. While this variable nature of science is often what makes it what it is, it can also render it a killjoy to some people, especially when it comes to debunking imaginative alien theories.

This is exactly what NASA did to the alien megastructure theory, which explains the atypical dimming of Tabby's star as a consequence of a giant technological creation built by an advanced civilization to harvest the star's energy.

KIC 8462852 (a.k.a Boyajian's Star, or Tabby's Star) is a star in the constellation Cygnus that lies around 1,280 light-years from Earth. Since the discovery of Tabby's star' unusual dimming activity, its odd behavior has been the source of speculations, which ranged from plausible scientific explanations to wild theories like the well-known megastructure hypothesis. The star in question exhibits two types of weird behavior: a 20 percent dimming that lasts days, and a long-term but subtle slump in brightness. 

According to a new study that was published in The Astrophysical Journal, the long-term dimming is likely caused by an uneven dust ring orbiting the star. The findings, which were made possible thanks to NASA's Spitzer and Swift missions as well as the Belgian AstroLAB IRIS observatory, put a slap in the face of the idea of an advanced civilization building a swarm of giant solar panels that orbit Boyajian's star. Scientists observed that the dimming was more noticeable in the ultraviolet light emitted from the star than its infrared light. Larger objects (e.g., an alien megastructure) passing in front of the star would cause all wavelengths of light to dim uniformly, said the researchers. 

The unusual light fluctuations were first formalized in a study that was published in 2016. The study's lead author was Tabetha Boyajian, hence the star's nickname. The discovery of  Boyajian's unusual activity was largely facilitated thanks to a project called Planet Hunters. It is an initiative that aims to empower citizen scientists by actively letting them participate in the search for exoplanets. Furthermore, contributions made by those citizen scientists, who analyzed data from NASA's Kepler telescope, played a crucial role in the discovery of Tabby's star' odd behavior.

While this study may have finally put the final nail in the alien megastructure coffin, it is worth noting that Tabby's star still hasn't revealed all its secrets as short-term 20 percent brightness slumps were not covered by this research. Maybe it is time for another alien megastructure theory?!
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