What We’ve Learned About Boyajian’s Star I: Background

For those just catching up on Tabby’s Star, read Kimberly Cartier’s article in Scientific American and my series of blog posts here. And don’t read or trust anything the Daily Mail writes on this (or any other topic involving me).

The star exhibits two unique and very difficult to understand behaviors: the short-term”dips” in brightness (of up to 22%) and long-term brightness variations on years-to-centuries timescales.

Since the Kepler mission stopped observing it, it seems to have continued it slow decline in brightness over the past few years, and that dimming does not seem to be due to solid objects.  But we still don’t have any information about what’s responsible for the dips because we hadn’t been able to see one happening in real time.

But now, thanks to the generous support of our Kickstarter backers, Tabby’s team has been able to pay for year-long monitoring of the star with the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network to “catch it in the act” of dipping again so we can study what’s going on.

And in May, it finally happened (when by amazing coincidence I just happened to be at the Breakthrough Listen Lab at UC Berkeley during my sabbatical):

Since then, Tabby’s team has been able to collect a huge amount of data not only from our own organized follow-up efforts, but thanks to he amazing generosity and interest of astronomers around the world who volunteered to observe the star during the dips.  We sincerely appreciate their contributions, and they are all authors of our latest paper.

You can follow every twist and turn of this summer’s activity on the Kickstarter project blog here and follow along with the fans of the project on the Reddit page.  Here’s what’s been going on all summer and fall:

In this plot, the different colors represent different LCO sites where data were taken.  The brightness of the star is on the y-axis, and the date (measured in days with an arbitrary offset astronomers like to use ) is on the x-axis.

One of the rewards for our Kickstarter backers was to name the various dips (they need names!).  After the first (“Elsie”, a nod to Las Cumbres Observatory (“LC”) who was one of our most generous backers), the star continued to oblige with a series of dips. The next dip, “Celeste,” was named as a near reversal of “Elsie” when it looked like the two events might be exhibiting time symmetry (it’s also a nod to team member Angelle Tanner’s mother, who sadly died around the time of the event). The subsequent events have started a theme of “lost cities” which it seems the backers would like to maintain going forward.

After all of that, the star exhibited a strange brightening for a couple of months.

To recap, we were hoping that once we finally caught a dip happening in real time we could see if the dips were the same depth at all wavelengths.  If they were nearly the same, this would suggest that the cause was something opaque, like a disk or (whispering) alien megastructures.

The long-term dimming doesn’t seem to be the same at all wavelengths, which suggests it’s being caused by something like ordinary astronomical dust, but that doesn’t tell us what’s causing the dips (which are what got everyone excited in the first place).

So, what have we found!?!  Well, our paper with a huge author list has been accepted by Astrophysical Journal Letters (thanks to a quick and conscientious referee) and we’re ready to reveal what happened in part II.

 

2 thoughts on “What We’ve Learned About Boyajian’s Star I: Background

  1. Paul Leyland

    A good rule of thumb, known by most Britons, is to treat *everything* written by The Daily Mail with suspicion…

  2. Keith Henson

    Hi Jason

    I have a thought about the brightening. For us to see anything, we have to be close to the ecliptic. Whatever made the huge 22% dip (and other dips) has to go to the far side (from us) of its orbit eventually.

    Whatever it is, unless it is totally black, is going to reflect some of the star’s light. Given the brightening data, this might put some constraints on what is in orbit around this strange acting star.

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