BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An LSU physics professor, who raised over $100,000 in 2016 to study the "most mysterious star in the universe", has published data, gathered with the help of over 100 team researchers, debunking a theory that the mysterious blinking star is an alien megastructure, the university announced Wednesday.
"Dust is most likely the reason why the star's light appears to dim and brighten. The new data shows that different colors 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," said Tabetha Boyajian, who is an Assistant Professor in LSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Data collected by Boyajian and colleagues in partnership with the Las Cumbres Observatory is now available in a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Boyajian also credits citizen scientists, known as Planet Hunters, who sifted through massive amounts of data from the NASA Kepler mission for initially detecting the star's unusual behavior
"If it wasn't for people with an unbiased look on our universe, this unusual star would have been overlooked," Boyajian said. "Again, without the public support for this dedicated observing run, we would not have this large amount of data."
Over 1,700 people donated $107,421 to a Kickstarter campaign Boyajian started in 2016 to fund dedicated time on ground-based telescopes to observe KIC 8462852, or "Tabby's Star," nicknamed after Boyajian.
"It's exciting. I am so appreciative of all of the people who have contributed to this in the past year – the citizen scientists and professional astronomers. It's quite humbling to have all of these people contributing in various ways to help figure it out," Boyajian said.
Data on the star was gathered through a network of telescopes around the world. Tabby's Star is about 50 larger and 1,000 degrees hotter than our Sun and is over 1,000 light years away from earth. The star sporadically dims and brightens in the night sky.
Scientists observed the star through the Las Cumbres Observatory from March 2016 to December 2017. There were four distinct episodes when the star's light dipped, beginning in May 2017.
Supporters who donated to the crowdfunding campaign voted to name the episodes Elise, Celeste, Scara Brae and Angkor. The last two are named after ancient lost cities.The authors of the published data say the star is similar to those ancient cities. "They're ancient; we are watching things that happened more than 1,000 years ago. They're almost certainly caused by something ordinary, at least on a cosmic scale. And yet that makes them more interesting, not less. But most of all, they're mysterious," wrote the authors.
The university says the method in which this star is being studied signals a new era of astronomy.
"We're gathering so much data on a single target. This project is reflective of changes in astronomy with the access to this flood of data," said Tyler Ellis from Spokane, Wash., an LSU doctoral candidate studying this star.