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 Tabby’s Star. Image via NASA/JPL/Caltech/Vanderbilt University.
Finder chart for Tabby’s Star, aka KIC 8462852. It’s located in the direction to the constellation Cygnus.