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Astronomers have proposed a new theory for why the infamous ‘alien megastructure’ star appears to be dimming and some are saying it just may answer the mystery once and for all.
Known as ‘KIC 8462852’ or, more colloquially, Tabby’s Star, the strange celestial object made headlines in October of 2015 it was suggested that the brightness of the star was fluctuating due to the presence of an ‘alien megastructure‘ surrounding it.
As one might expect, this hypothesis set off a firestorm in the media and caught the attention of astronomers around the world.
However a recent paper published by astronomers from the University of Columbia and the University of Berkeley puts forward a promising new theory for the star’s erratic illumination.
Their research argues that the phenomenon is caused by a collision between the star and one of the planets that once orbited it.
The absorption of the planet would cause the star to increase in brightness, they say, before eventually subsiding to its original luminosity.
According to the astronomers, we are currently witnessing that process, which is why Tabby’s Star looks to us like it has been dimming over the last century of observations.
Additionally, their theory would account for the random ‘flickering’ of the star in that debris from the destroyed planet could be orbiting KIC 8462852 and causing those odd fluctuations.
By answering both the long term dimming enigma and the random unexplained changes in its brightness, the idea is being hailed as the best theory to emerge since Tabby’s Star became the talk of the astronomy world.
Astronomers hope to test the hypothesis by watching for Tabby’s Star to dim again in the future and seeing if the event provides evidence that the change is caused by planetary debris which would have a distinct signature.
Whether that proves to be the case remains to be seen, as the ‘alien megastructure’ has managed to outwit astronomers for more than year by defying several other once-promising theories for its strange behavior.