Tabby’s Star

Earlier this year astronomer Tabetha Boyajian sparked a ruckus. Inquiring science minds pondered her TED Talk, a talk naming star KIC 8462852 as “the most mysterious in the universe”.

Dubbed Tabby’s Star, the fuss stems from Tabby’s light behaving oddly. Odd as in astronomers have never seen anything like it. At irregular intervals, for days at a time, light “dims” by as much as 22%.  Science knows it isn’t a planet – the culprit isn’t round, nor does it block light in a discernible pattern.

Tabby’s peculiarities caught the attention of Andrew Siemion. Today, for 8 dedicated hours SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Green Bank radio telescope in Virginia will listen to nothing but Tabby – a cosmic anomaly perplexing enough to warrant investigation of alien life, specifically a Dyson Sphere (linked below)

Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and co-director of Breakthrough Listen at Berkeley, will also be on hand at Green Bank tonight, helping with the Tabby’s Star observations. He said in a statement:

Everyone, every SETI program telescope, I mean every astronomer that has any kind of telescope in any wavelength that can see Tabby’s star has looked at it. It’s been looked at with Hubble, it’s been looked at with Keck, it’s been looked at in the infrared and radio and high energy, and every possible thing you can imagine, including a whole range of SETI experiments. Nothing has been found.

What can the Green Bank radio telescope bring to the table? Siemion said:

The Green Bank Telescope is the largest fully steerable radio telescope on the planet, and it’s the largest, most sensitive telescope that’s capable of looking at Tabby’s star given its position in the sky. We’ve deployed a fantastic new SETI instrument that connects to that telescope, that can look at many gigahertz of bandwidth simultaneously and many, many billions of different radio channels all at the same time so we can explore the radio spectrum very, very quickly.

He said the results of the Green Bank observations made tonight will not be known for more than a month, because of the massive data analysis required to pick out patterns in the radio emissions.

Artist's concept of cascading comets around a distant star. This scenario is one possible explanation for mystery star KIC 8462852. Image via NASA/JPL/Caltech/Vanderbilt University.

Artist’s concept of cascading comets around a distant star. This scenario is one possible explanation for Tabby’s Star. Image via NASA/JPL/Caltech/Vanderbilt University.

Finder chart for KIC 8462852. It's located in the direction to the constellation Cygnus, which is part of the famous Summer Triangle asterism, visible at this time of year.

Finder chart for Tabby’s Star, aka KIC 8462852. It’s located in the direction to the constellation Cygnus.

Astronomers to observe Tabby’s Star

Dyson Sphere

In 1960, physicist/astronomer Freeman J. Dyson had an idea – perhaps we were going about looking for extraterrestrial life the wrong way. His paper, published in Journal Science – Search For Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, proposed searching for cosmic signatures of solar energy collection. Instead of waiting for faint “pings” generated by radio signals, why not search for solar system sized energy collection structures.

Dyson asked us to ponder the obvious – very little solar energy actually strikes our planet, what if we could collect that energy as a power source? Why not look for evidence of advanced cosmic civilizations based on probabilities they knew how to trap and use solar power?

A Dyson Sphere – as described on the website

“It would consist of a shell of solar collectors (or habitats) around the star. With this model, all (or at least a significant amount) of the energy would hit a receiving surface where it can be used. [Dyson] speculated that such structures would be the logical consequence of the long-term survival and escalating energy needs of a technological civilization.”

This next link explains Dyson’s theory in ways I couldn’t hope to make better sense of..

Dyson would be pleased to learn science has finally taken notice. Plucked from the pages of science fiction, serious science is exploring his theory as fact.