It’s been a busy few weeks for studies of the fascinating star announced by Tabetha Boyajian’s team, KIC 8462852.
It’s official! Tabetha Boyajian is leading a Kickstarter effort to fund long-term monitoring of KIC 8462852 (I’m on the team!). The idea is to purchase time on LCOGT, a private network of small telescopes around the world. These professional instruments can provide regular brightness measurements of bright stars like KIC 8462, and will be able to provide us with an alert if it starts doing one of its mysterious dimming events again. It’s an important effort, and exactly the sort of expensive, unknown-probability, uncertain-payoff science that is very hard for conservative time allocation committees and grant proposal panels to approve.
But it’s also the sort of fun and fascinating science that plenty of people would be willing to kick a few bucks towards, and if “plenty” times “few” turns out to be enough, we’ll be able to ensure that we don’t miss the next event. Please go to the site and help us out!
An Atlantic Article
Ross Andersen from the Atlantic, who wrote the article that made Boyajian’s star famous, saw the recent back-and-forth by Schaefer and Hippke. First, Schaefer showed that Boyajian’s star seems to have undergone a “century-long-fade.” Hippke wrote a rebuttal, Schaefer wrote an acid response, and Hippke came back with a more careful rebuttal.
Rather than write his own summary for The Atlantic, would I like to write it myself, he wondered? As luck would have it, my PhD student Kimberly Cartier, who is starting her final year in graduate school, is pursuing a career in science journalism. Would Ross be interested in a piece co-written by the two of us? Sure, he said.
So Kim and I quickly whipped up a Google Doc and pounded out a story. After some back-and-forth with Ross for style and content, it went up on The Atlantic’s website. I think it came out really well!
Green Bank Time!
The event that started Boyajian’s Star’s fame was when Ross Andersen met with Andrew Siemion in Washington after Andrew’s testimony to Congress about the search for life in the universe. At the time, Andrew, Tabby, and I had just recently submitted a proposal to NRAO to use the Green Bank 100 m telescope to “listen” to Boyajian’s Star for alien transmissions. Ross wrote a nice article on the Congressional event based on an interview with Andrew.
Last night I had dinner with the director of Berkeley's SETI Research Center. We had a fun talk: http://t.co/tgGZOvdQqW
— Ross Andersen (@andersen) September 29, 2015
That “fun talk”, included Andrew mentioning our Green Bank proposal, and the rest is history.
But whatever happened to the Green Bank proposal? Well, the TAC met before Ross’s story broke, so all they had to go on was our short proposal explaining why the star was weird. Our proposal was not as compelling as Ross’s article, and they turned us down, “with prejudice” as the lawyers say.
NRAO has a scale for ranking proposals, prioritized ‘A’ through ‘C’ for proposals that are awarded time, to ‘N’ for those for which there’s just not enough time. It turns out, there’s also a sub-basement on the scale: N*, meaning something like “rejected not for lack of time, but because the proposal is not worthy, even if time were available.”
N* is what we got. We got the feedback shortly after the news broke, and we decided to try again the next semester. With a lot of astronomers’ eyes on the star, we could argue that if there were a simple exaplanation, it would have been forthcoming by now. We also got to mention the Schaefer/Hippke flap, and address some of the TAC comments from the first round.
Well, apparently it worked! We were just awarded 25 hours of ‘C’ time for 2016B, and Andrew tells me that this means we will almost certainly be able to observe. I’m looking forward to the trip to West Virginia with Tabby and Andrew to do some radio astronomy!
That’s all for now. Stay tuned…