‘Alien megastructure’ star’s mystery deepens

Image: KIC 8462852
This illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. Astronomers say it’s possible that such a phenomenon could explain some aspects of the dimming pattern for a mysterious star called KIC 8462852, but not all aspects. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

It’s been almost a year since astronomers first speculated that a strangely dimming star called KIC 8462852 might harbor an alien megastructure, and newly reported observations are making the case even stranger.

KIC 8462852 is also known as Tabby’s Star, because Yale astronomer Tabetha Boyajian first brought the case to light, based on observations that were collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and analyzed by the Planet Hunters project. The somewhat sunlike star lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

Kepler’s data revealed an erratic pattern in the intensity of KIC 8462852’s starlight, including periods when the light dimmed as much as 20 percent. Penn State astronomer Jason Wright noted that the dimming could theoretically be caused by shifts in an alien megastructure surrounding the star – something like a giant energy-generating Dyson sphere.

Thus was an Internet phenomenon born.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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