Science

The Mystery Of 'Alien Megastructure' Now Explained

By Anne Dominguez , Dec 22, 2016 09:29 AM EST
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It's nothing about aliens! Scientists have explained the mystery behind the "alien megastructure" star and it got nothing to do with extraterrestrial species like most people have been hoping for. Instead, the unusual dimming of the KIC 8462852 or the so-called Boyajian's star might be caused by an internal phase transition of the star or some dust clouds from nearby bodies.

In October 2015, the Kepler space telescope discovered strange light patterns surrounding a distant star -- the Boyajian's star, named after leader of the team researching it, Tabetha S. Boyajian. Unlike any other stars which brightness dips by about 1 percent, the Boyajian's star erratically dips to up to 22 percent. Researchers have come up with possible explanation of the of the star's mysterious brightness fluctuations like a swarm of comets and most popularly, a megastructure made by aliens to collect stellar energy.

However, recent studies have debunked the "alien megastructure" theory. In a study published in the December 2016 issue of the Physical Review Letters of the American Physical Society, researchers used statistical analysis to link unusual dimming of the Boyajian's star to an internal nonequilibrium phenomena. They analyzed the star and found out that it is similar to avalanche statistics as the star appear to be undergoing transitions.

"Examples of such transitions are magnetic systems that are slowly driven with a magnetic field, or the slow deformation of somewhat brittle materials where there is often first little crackling that gets louder and louder until there is a big snap when the material breaks," Karin Dahmen, a member of the research team said.

Another hypothesis from a study at Cornell University suggests that it might be simply caused by dust clouds from massive bodies orbiting the host star. The researchers added that it is possible to reproduce the unusual light curves of the Boyajian's star using physical models and there's no need to invoke an alien megastructure to explain it. 

  

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