Mystery of ‘Alien Megastructure’ star testing astronomers’ creativity

Posted: December 21, 2016 by oldbrew in Astronomy, Astrophysics

Aliens might be the ‘Hollywood solution’ but those tend to be fictional. On the other hand, plausible explanations are elusive.

Astronomers may have to think a little harder to solve the mystery of Boyajian’s star reports

In September 2015, Yale University’s Tabetha Boyajian and her colleagues reported that the star KIC 8462852 has dimmed dramatically multiple times over the past seven years, once by an astounding 22 percent. 

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope spotted these dimming events. But the brightness dips of “Boyajian’s star,” as it has come to be known, were far too significant to be caused by an orbiting planet, so astronomers began thinking of alternative explanations.

Researchers have come up with many possible causes for the dimming, including a swarm of broken-apart comet fragments, variability in the activity of the star itself, a cloud of some sort in the interstellar medium between Kepler and Boyajian’s star, and, most famously, an orbiting “megastructure” built by an alien civilization to collect stellar energy.

Researchers are testing these hypotheses to the extent possible.

The mystery has only deepened since Boyajian and colleagues’ September 2015 paper. Early last year, for example, astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University determined that, in addition to the periodic brightness dips, the star dimmed overall by about 20 percent between 1890 and 1989. This result was bolstered by another 2016 study, which found that Boyajian’s star dimmed by about 3 percent between 2009 and 2013.

Wright has said that the interstellar-cloud explanation seems the most likely of the proffered hypotheses. But he’s not betting on it. “That would have to be some crazy interstellar cloud,” he told here last week at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Researchers may have to dig deeper to figure out exactly what’s causing the strange dimming of Boyajian’s star, Wright said.

“I think it’s very likely that we haven’t heard the right answer yet — that I haven’t heard the right answer yet, anyway,” he said.

Full report: Mystery of ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star Testing Astronomers’ Creativity |

  1. linneamogren says:

    There have been a few other stars discovered with very similar symptoms. Most likely it’s not aliens ( even that’s exciting to ponder ) but rather very fast spinning stars which would cause them to become oblate.

    Most scientists no longer consider life rising spontaneously on earth, but rather it arrived on the blue planet. Interesting but that’s kicking the cosmic can down the road. Regardless where life rose, one huge issue needs to be proved before we can assume life is spontaneous. That being how can DNA form into meaningful sequences without first having meaningful genetic information?

  2. JB says:

    At an estimated distance of 1,500 light years, this question will be resolved anytime soon?
    One of the few important questions about the Universe to be resolved at public expense I expect.

  3. vuurklip says:

    What if the fluctuations are not the by product of some process but actually IS the product – i.e. it is a signal using the power of the star rather than the small power of some planet based radio transmitter? Hand over to Bletchley …

  4. linneamogren says:

    One other hypothesis! The other likely hypothesis is a protoplanetary disk or sphere. Some of these stars are not spinning fast enough to be oblate. So the protoplanetary disk hypothesis is very logical since we simply could be at the wrong angel angle to view its radiation.

  5. linneamogren says:

    Angel = angle lol

  6. Brett Keane says:

    Ah yes Linnea, you are an ‘angle’ and we are lucky to have your input, as you hone your skills. You get the latest info, and we need that. Thanks and good luck. Also merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. I am sure you have been very busy. Third year now – could be a very interesting one for you, and us too we hope.

  7. oldbrew says:

    Maybe a binary star could be part of the scenario?

  8. Sunsettommy says:

    There is another alternative view that is completely absent.

    Stars are known to do that by themselves or because of the antics of its companion star.

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    It appears to me that Linneamogren has placed her finger on the most logical answer.
    A protoplanetary disk and a changing viewing angle. The rings of Saturn cast a shadow on it’s surface that we can see, so being in a slowly moving shadow could be the answer…pg

  10. oldbrew says:

    The Classical Cepheids show that some types of stars can behave in radically different ways than our own Sun.

    ‘Along with the temperature changes their radii also change during each pulsation (e.g. by ~25% for the longer-period l Car), resulting in brightness variations up to two magnitudes.’

    Also: ‘Classical Cepheids have also been used to clarify many characteristics of our galaxy, such as the Sun’s height above the galactic plane and the Galaxy’s local spiral structure.’

  11. linneamogren says:


    A Merry Christmas to you too! Thank you very much. Yes I’m excited about my study and it’s very rewarding. I had some good debates here over the past few years, but it has been a while since stopping by. Again, tack så mycket

  12. linneamogren says:

    @P.G. Thank you! Saturn is a very good point.

  13. linneamogren says:

    @ Oldbrew

    ” Maybe a binary star could be part of the scenario? ”

    That hypothesis has been out there even in regards to Dysons Sphere. The atomsphere of binary stars can be gravitationally distorted if aspects of the system are close enough.

  14. oldbrew says:

    Mystery solved?

    ‘Avalanche statistics suggest Tabby’s star is near a continuous phase transition’
    Date: December 20, 2016
    Source: University of Illinois College of Engineering

    ‘Now a team of scientists proffer an entirely novel solution to the Tabby’s star puzzle.’

  15. Ned Nikolov says:

    Here is another hypothesis to explain the unusual dimming of the Boyajian’s star … This one requires familiarity with the Electric Universe concept. According to this theory, stars are not thermonuclear furnaces, but focal points of electrical plasma discharge. In other words, stars are like electric bulbs – they get their energy from currents flowing through plasma filaments that connect the stars of a galaxy and even links galaxies with each other. In this model, stars are places (focal points), where energy gets released rather than places, where energy is produced. This model of star function has a lot of empirical support from plasma physics and experiments done in a lab. Also, our Sun displays features that are inexplicable within the thermonuclear fusion model such as lack of a strong neutrino flux, lack of intense surface turbulent convection, and a much hotter corona (2 million K) that the surface (~ 5,750 K) …

    So, if stars are like light bulbs fueled by electric currents flowing through plasma filaments, then they could flicker if the supplying currents became intermittent for some reason.

    This is something to think about!

  16. Alien Megastructure No Doubt!

  17. Ned Nikolov says:

    A brief description of how stars work from the perspective of the Electric Universe (EU) theory can be found here:

    This video sums up the EU concept of star formation and function:

    I find the EU concept to be a very intriguing idea that, if confirmed, will turn the current gravity-based cosmology on its head!

  18. linneamogren says:

    @ Ned

    I’m not one to impugn scientific hypothesis, because science is about challenging conclusions. But the EU hypothesis does not hold much scientific credibility. One would have to efface most of known physics and unfortunately for EU it lacks the ability to back such claims. Can EU prove using formulas that nuclear fusion is wrong? As for lack of neutrino evidence this flys in the face of overwhelming scientific discovery.

  19. oldbrew says:

    NASA: ‘the sun is a giant magnetic star, made of material that moves in concert with the laws of electromagnetism.’

    NASA: Understanding the Magnetic Sun

  20. gallopingcamel says:

    A more fun hypothesis is that someone is implementing Freeman Dyson’s ideas.

    Larry Niven wrote about this in an entertaining way in his Ringworld novels. While it is trivial to show that there is no material with the tensile strength needed to create Larry’s ring he invents “Skrith” with the needed tensile strength.

  21. oldbrew says:

    Somehow putting a shroud round the Sun doesn’t seem like a good idea 😐

  22. oldbrew says:

    Another attempt to explain it.

    ‘a team of researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, have suggested that the star’s strange flickering could be the result of a planet it consumed at some point in the past. This would have resulted in a big outburst of brightness from which the star is now recovering; and the remains of this planet could be transiting in front of the star, thus causing periodic drops.’

    Read more at: