Scientists Say the Secret to Tabby's Star's 'Alien' Dimming Just a Sparked a New Mystery
When astronomers spotted strange patterns of dimming and brightening from KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby's Star, none of the traditional explanations seemed to be able to account for them: The star had been slowly dimming for years, but no known material or phenomenon could cause the dips in brightness astronomers were seeing now.
Soon, people started suggesting that Tabby's Star wasn't being dimmed by natural forces—it was slowly being enclosed by an alien megastructure designed to soak up all of its light and radiation, like a Dyson sphere.
The alien megastructure theory gained a lot of traction but was struck down in early January when new research revealed that the mysterious force obscuring the star was a particularly complicated cloud of dust.
That seemed like the end of the story, but months later, Tabby's Star is still puzzling scientists.
The new mystery has to do with the nature of this dust cloud; normal clouds of dust aren't usually mistaken for alien Dyson spheres.
According to new research, one theory to explain the dust cloud's effect on Tabby's light is that it's composed of bigger and smaller chunks of dust, which obscure light in different ways.
But even that's not for certain.
According to Yao Yin, a student at Thacher School: "Long-term dimming and short-term dimming may be caused by completely independent phenomena happening at the same time."
Aside from the knowledge that dust is somehow involved, why Tabby's Star continues to go through dim and bright periods is still unexplained.
According to Alejandro Wilcox, another Thacher student: "For all we know there could be microscopic aliens. Realistically we're not very sure. [The cloud] could be much closer to us than it is to Tabby's Star."
Even if there are no alien Dyson spheres surrounding it, Tabby's Star is still earning its title of "the most mysterious star in the galaxy."