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Ok, so what’s really going on with Tabby’s Star?

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Hiding in the treasure trove of Kepler data was an exciting mystery. It was a star that dimmed so much that whatever caused it had to be 20 times the size of Jupiter.

Every possible explanation under and beyond the Sun has since been thrown at the object, now known as Tabby’s star (aka Boyajian’s star, aka KIC 8462852). The explanations have included a fragmented planet, a swarm of comets, and a giant ring of dust.

Oh, and aliens!

But a new study reports E.T. has nothing to do with the bizarre dimming events of the mysterious Tabby’s star.

Earlier this year, we met study leader Tabetha Boyajian, an astronomer at Louisiana State University Boyajian and her team to break down the mystery of Tabby’s star!



“Dust is most likely the reason why the star’s light appears to dim and brighten,” Boyajian said in a statement. “The new data shows that different colours 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.”

Tabby’s star lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth and is a bit bigger and hotter than the sun. The star has been in the news a lot since 2015, when a team led by Boyajian reported that it had dimmed dramatically over the previous five years or so, once by 22 per cent!

For the new study, Boyajian and her team observed Tabby’s star from March 2016 to December 2017, using multiple ground-based telescopes run by the Las Cumbres Observatory. They spotted and analyzed four separate dimming events, which occurred over the summer in 2017.

The latest results are consistent with those of another research group, which late last year concluded that Tabby’s star is likely orbited by a cloud of dust that completes one lap every 700 Earth days.

But it’s not over quite yet, there is still work to be done: Dust may be the leading explanation for this star’s odd behavior, but it’s not the only possibility.

"This latest research rules out alien megastructures, but it raises the probability of other phenomena being behind the dimming," study co-author Jason Wright, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, said in the same statement.

"There are models involving circumstellar material — like exocomets, which were Boyajian's team's original hypothesis — which seem to be consistent with the data we have," Wright said. But, he added, "some astronomers favor the idea that nothing is blocking the star — that it just gets dimmer on its own — and this also is consistent with this summer's data.”
 
 
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