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Friday, June 18, 2021

Mysterious star with ‘alien megastructure’ nearby looks like it is not alone

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Scientists found a new clue that could help solve the mystery of a star that periodically darkens in a strange way. This is KIC 8462852(previously called as Tabby’s Star), also known for a supposed ‘alien megastructure’ that could be close to it.

Since the discovery made by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian in 2015, the star has stumped experts. It’s a yellowish dwarf 1,470 light-years away that continues to darken unevenly, and no one is sure why.

However, astronomers are close to solving the problem. KIC 8462852 appears to have a binary companion that could be contributing to its uneven dips in brightness. If confirmed with more detailed observations, the newly discovered star could help finally solve the mystery. The finding was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Some of the declines in starlight have reached as high as 22%. This behavior rules out that it is a planet; When an exoplanet passes between a star and Earth in its orbit, it decreases the star’s brightness by only 1% or less at regular intervals.

Also, when the star gets dark, some wavelengths are blocked more than others. That rules out a solid object (like an alien megastructure, as proposed in 2016), which would block all wavelengths equally.

So far, the most likely explanation seems to be dust and debris in combination with the normal variations in the brightness of the star itself. The presence of a companion binary star in a wide orbit could help explain the presence of all this material by providing additional gravitational disturbances.

Since 2016, a team of astronomers led by Logan Pearce of the University of Arizona has been trying to confirm the possible connection of a nearby star with KIC 8462852. The two stars are separated by a distance of 880 astronomical units – 880 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. 

Boyajian’s star, or KIC 8462852 A, is the largest star, about 1.36 times the mass and 1.5 times the size of the Sun. Its companion, KIC 8462852 B, is a red dwarf star of about 0.44 times the mass and 0.45 times the size of the Sun.

In such a wide orbit, KIC 8462852 B is unlikely to have any direct effect on the brightness of KIC 8462852 A. But it could still play a role in the mysterious fluctuations of the larger star, researchers led by Pearce believe.

“The binary partner can influence the long-term evolution of the system,” they wrote in their article.

The recent discovery that widely spaced binary stars can be forced by greater gravitational forces to approach their mutual center of mass several times supports this theory. This phenomenon could end up causing the rupture of planets and other small bodies in orbit, where they are stretched and torn by gravitational interactions, giving rise to clouds of debris.

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