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‘Alien megastructure’ signal may be due to star eating a planet

Orbiting debris could be making Tabby’s star blink. When you are a messy eater, it can take a long time to clean up after a meal. The slow dimming of Tabby’s star and the sudden dips in its light may be caused by an orbiting cloud of debris left over from when it partially gobbled a planet. The star KIC 8462852 rose to prominence in 2015, when a team of astronomers led by Yale’s Tabetha Boyajian (after whom the star is nicknamed) observed a series of abrupt dips in its brightness, in which it dimmed by up to 22 per cent before going back to normal. There are many ideas about what causes the star’s sporadic blinking, from internal stellar dynamics to swarms of orbiting comets to an enormous alien megastructure. Things got more complicated in January 2016, when a review of old photographic plates revealed that Tabby’s star dimmed by 14 per cent between 1890 and 1989. It faded by another 3 per cent over the four years it was observed by the Kepler space observatory. Now Brian Metzger at Columbia University in New York and his colleagues have a theory that could explain both the brief dips in light and the gradual dimming. The group thinks Tabby’s star is just returning to its natural state – after a large, messy meal.

Read More: New Scientist

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