Earlier this month, a mysterious star — known as Tabby’s Star or KIC 8462852 — with a strange dimming light made the news for its unexplained and bizarre behavior. Many on the Internet blamed an alien megastructure on KIC 8462852 for the dimming of 20% and more. Sure, This star is strange. But aliens?
So, for those who have not followed the ‘adventure’ of KIC 8462852, here’s a quick summary. First, amateurs astronomers involved in a “citizen science” project noticed strange decreases in the brightness of the star: it had deep dips in brightness — up to 22%. The dips weren’t periodic, sometimes for days and even months at a time. Nothing like this was ever recorded in all Kepler’s database. So, professional astronomers decided to take a close look at the star and study it. The result of their work highlights a probable hypothesis: the light variations were caused by passing comet swarms which orbit around the star. However, scientists admit then that they still have some doubts about this explanation. They also considered a possibility, very unlikely, the existence of a megastructure related to an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.
Today, in a new study, recently published online by The Astrophysical Journal Letters, based on observations taken with the Infrared Array Camera of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers said a swarm of comets was most likely to blame.
This time, instead of studying the star in visible light, researchers looked for infrared light near the star. Their findings:
The scenario in which the dimming in the KIC 8462852 light curve were caused by the destruction of a family of comets remains the preferred explanation,
wrote the three — Massimo Marengo, Alan Hulsebus and Sarah Willis.
Thus, they have eliminated the hypothesis of an ‘ordinary’ cosmic catastrophe.
They didn’t see much. If there had been some kind of catastrophe near the star, he said there would be a lot of dust and debris. And that would show up as extra infrared emissions.
After analyzing two different infrared wavelengths, we concluded there were no excess infrared emissions and therefore no sign of an asteroid belt collision, a giant impact on a planet or a dusty cloud of rock and debris.
In contrast, the most likely explanation for the mysterious dimming is the destruction of a family of comets near the star.
The comet fragments coming in rapidly at a steep, elliptical orbit could create a big debris cloud that could dim the star. Then the cloud would move off, restoring the star’s brightness and leaving no trace of excess infrared light.
And what about the extraterrestrial hypothesis?
We didn’t look for that,
We can’t really say it is, or is not. But what the star is doing is very strange. It’s interesting when you have phenomena like that — typically it means there’s some new physical explanation or a new concept to be discovered.
In the end, KIC 8462852 remain a mysterious and strange star. It will be under observation until a clear evidence comes to show once and for all what is the cause behind these light dims. But for now, the swarm of comets has a big lead.
We may not know yet what’s going on around this star, But that’s what makes it so interesting.