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Star’s weirdness ascribed to dust, not aliens

Tabby's Star
This illustration depicts a hypothetical uneven ring of dust orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star or Tabby’s Star. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration)

Are aliens building a huge energy-generating megastructure around a weirdly dimming star? That way-out hypothesis has suffered another blow, thanks to a study that draws upon infrared as well as ultraviolet observations.

The star, known as KIC 8462852 or Tabby’s Star, first came to attention two years ago when citizen scientists sifting through data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope noticed some unusually drastic dips in its brightness. The star’s nickname comes from Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian, the Yale astronomer who oversaw those observations.

Another astronomer, Penn State’s Jason Wright, mused that the data could be explained by the construction of a huge orbital structure known as a Dyson sphere — although he cautioned that “aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider.”

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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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