This artist’s image shows fragments of comet along the face of a star, is a possible explanation for the strange dimming exhibited by “Boyajian the stars.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Astronomers may have to think a little bit harder to solve the mystery of Boyajian the stars.
In September 2015, Yale University Tabetha Boyajian and her colleagues reported that the star KIC 8462852 dark dramatically several times in the past seven years, once by an astounding 22 percent.
NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope spotted these dimming events. But the brightness dips “Boyajian the stars,” as it has come to be known, were much too large to be caused by an orbiting planet, so astronomers began to think of alternative explanations. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Alien Life]
Researchers come up with a lot of possible causes for the dimming, including a swarm of broken-in addition to the comet fragments, the variability in the activity of the star, a cloud of a kind in the interstellar medium between Kepler and Boyajian the stars, and, most famously, a job “megastructure” built by an alien civilization to collect stellar energy.
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Researchers are testing these hypotheses to the extent possible. For example, the $100 million Breakthrough Listening initiative is the use of the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to hunt for signals from Boyajian the star , which is located about 1500 light years from the Earth.
The Green Bank observing run wrap-up the following month, said a member of the team Jason Wright, an astronomer at the Pennsylvania State University. (Other research groups have used different instruments to search for signs of intelligent alien creatures around Boyajian star, empty-to-date.)
Wright has spent a fair bit of time over the past 15 months pondering what happens with Boyajian the stars; and verily he is the lead author of a recent study in which the different possibilities .
The mystery has only deepened since Boyajian and colleagues from September 2015 paper. At the beginning of last year, for example, astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University determined that, in addition to the periodic brightness dips, the star of grey in total by about 20 percent between 1890 and 1989. This result was supported by another 2016 study, which showed that Boyajian star dimmed by about 3 percent between 2009 and 2013.
Wright has said that the interstellar cloud explanation seems the most likely of the proposed hypotheses. But he is not to bet on. “That would be some crazy interstellar cloud,” he told Space.com here last week at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
The researchers have to dig deeper to find out what exactly the cause of the strange dimming of Boyajian star, Wright said.
“I think that it is very likely that haven’t heard the right answer yet — that I have not yet heard the correct answer yet, anyway,” he said.
Originally published on Space.com.