Updates on Boyajian’s Star

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.

The logo for Tabetha Boyajian's Kickstarter campaign.

The logo for Tabetha Boyajian’s Kickstarter campaign.

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.

Kim Cartier

Kimberly M. S. Cartier a.k.a. @AstroKimCartier

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!

You can find more of Kim’s science outreach and journalism at Universe Today’s weekly space hangout, at her blog, occasionally on Monday mornings at 98.7 the Freq, on on twitter at @AstroKimCartier.

Green Bank Time!

The Green bank 100m telescope, the largest steerable telescope in the world.

The Green Bank 100m telescope, the largest steerable telescope in the world.

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.

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…

10 thoughts on “Updates on Boyajian’s Star

  1. dryson

    ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star Is at It Again with the Strange Dimming


    I was doing some reading recently trying to find some other means of detecting exoplanets with having to wait for the traditional transit to occur.

    What I came up with relates to bowshock that a planet experiences when the solar wind from a start encounters the EM field of a planet.

    The bowshock of a planet can be compared to water flowing through a stream and encounters a rock half way submerged in and out of the water.

    In this case the water flowing is the solar wind from the sun, the stream would be space and the rock half submerged would would be the planet. If watch a normal stream flow you will see that it is is rather smooth and unobstructed. But as soon as you place a rock in half in and half out of the water bow shock occurs as the water flows around the rock. The water at the point of contact with the rock would have slightly more volume or in this case particle buildup as the particles flowed around the planet.

    Such a build up of particles might be detectable because the normal solar winds would flow through space without any turbulence compared to the particles effected by the planets EM field flowing around the planet that might cause a detectable dim in the suns brightness where the brightness would dim while the planet was transiting and then return to normal.

    The only question is would a planet farther away from KIC 8462852 create a larger dim based on bow shock where the planet might be smaller than a planet that is larger but closer to the sun?

  2. Dryson

    Are we looking for alien life in the Universe in the wrong place? Is a Dyson Sphere just to extraordinary to be believable? What about a simpler method of aliens using the available resources of their solar system to generate electricity for their civilization? Where would this simple form of electrical power come from?

    The storms located on the surfaces of Gas Giants.


    After reading the article I began to think that a space faring civilization would be better suited to use the storms such as the Red Spot on Jupiter to convert heat into available electricity. Electricity that could then be stored in capacitors or batteries and transported to other planets and moons in the alien solar system as well as the moons orbiting the Gas Giant.

    The collection array would look similar to a class graduation ring. The collection array itself would be centered over the storm where thousands of thermoelectric generators or TEG’s would collect the heat and convert the heat into electricity. Each cluster of TEG’s would be dedicated to a planet or a moon’s electrical needs. The band of the TEG Array would wrap around the Gas Giant like the band on the ring around the finger where sections of the band would house batteries and capacitors to store and load the electrical energy for travel to the moon or planet. Launch and equipment bays, housing and other human facilities would complete the TEG Array with other systems built into the array being used to power the electrical systems from the storm itself

  3. Dryson

    Perhaps a planet the size of Saturn but was an ice planet like Uranus but more so like Enceladus that as the planet came closer to KIC 8462852 sublimated and released more water vapor that then collected dust particles and becoming frozen caused the dimming of KIC 8462852. Basically like a planetary sized comet.


  4. Dryson

    Jupiter-Size Alien World Is Biggest ‘Tatooine’ Planet with 2 Suns Ever Found – See more at: http://www.space.com/33155-biggest-tatooine-exoplanet-twin-suns-found.html#sthash.FkwIuesV.dpuf

    Kepler-1647b lies about 3,700 light-years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Cygnus. The planet’s two parent stars are about the same size as the sun — one is a bit bigger, and the other is a bit smaller — and they are both about 4.4 billion years old, study team members said. (The sun is 4.6 billion years old.) – See more at: http://www.space.com/33155-biggest-tatooine-exoplanet-twin-suns-found.html#sthash.FkwIuesV.dpuf

    Kepler discovered the planet nearly 1,200 light years away from Earth. KIC 8462852 is around 1,500 light years from Earth. If Kepler is able to detect K-1647b at that range and determine that it is about 4.4 billion years old, then the telescope itself must be in good working order as it did not discover any dims associated with faulty equipment.

    Therefore the cause of the dims regarding KIC-8462852 must be artificial in origin.

  5. Dryson

    Let’s say that a planet was orbiting KIC 8462852 that had a photovoltaic harvester on the surface and was the same distance from KIC 8462 that Earth is. Because of the distance between Planet K and KIC 8462 there wouldn’t be any gap in the amount of energy collected by the photovoltaic harvester.

    But if Planet K is moved closer to KIC 8462 the amount of time that energy takes to reach Planet K is reduced significantly so that if the energy from KIC 8462 is being harvested the entire packet of particles emanating from KIC would be harvested reducing the overall brightness of KIC 8462.

    Even a small planet, the size of Mars, with a large harvester on it’s surface could possibly collect enough particles from KIC 8462 to cause the light curves recorded by Kepler and keep the planet from being detected.

    If there is an alien species in the system of KIC 8462 living on Planet K maybe they have discovered a way to accelerate the energy transfer of solar energy as it emanates from the sun at the speed of light so that the area that the harvester was directed at would harvest the energy of KIC 8462 so fast and because of Planet K being closer than Earth is to our Sun would cause KIC to have a dim.

    I’m not talking about a passive harvester that would collect energy from KIC 8462 by being a receiver but an active harvester that would collect all energy particles within it’s cone of influence the moment the energy left the surface of KIC 8462852.

  6. Dryson

    Is there a method for determining which side of KIC 8462 that the dim might have taken place on based on KIC’s revolutionary period around its axis?

    Were the dims created on the backside of KIC 8462 out of sight of Kepler or were the dims created on the front side of KIC 8462 in sight of Kepler?

    It is a prudent question because it could determine if an object is on the backside of KIC 8462 causing the dimming to take place. Backside meaning in an orbit where the object would not be detected by a telescope like Kepler.

    What is obvious is that there were not any transit shadows recorded as causing the dim. A transit shadow is what I call an object that has been verified as causing a dim because all we can see of the object is its shadow against the sun it is orbiting.

  7. Dryson

    Is there a method for determining which side of KIC 8462 that the dim might have taken place on based on KIC’s revolutionary period around its axis?

    Were the dims created on the backside of KIC 8462 out of sight of Kepler or were the dims created on the front side of KIC 8462 in sight of Kepler?

  8. Dryson

    I was watching this video about energy particles coming from the sun that could be used to power the Earth for 36,000 years. They aren’t talking about solar power but harvesting particles from the sun that impact Earth billions of times a minute.

    KIC 8462 could be experiencing the same type of harvesting that is being talked about in the video. The obvious near perfectly timed dims of KIC 8462 and the mirror of dims and increases in light around the 15% dim would fit in with an alien species harvesting the particles around KIC 8462. Particles that would reflect the light of KIC 8462 but would create a dim when harvested in large amounts.

    KIC 8462 is a normal star that does not have a wobble or any known gas pockets, comets or planets orbiting it but still has the loss of its light curve. Without the natural objects being present to cause the dim then something must be harvesting the particles of KIC 8462.


  9. Dryson

    From another article – History of Tabby’s Star http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=35590

    We spent a whole week discussing calibration techniques, scanners, and fungus (one of the reasons why digitization of these plates is so important!). These fungi are actually called “gold disease” owing to their look on the glass. We enjoyed long evening talks about the millions of plates that still await their scientific use, and after all of this, had the chance to discuss our own findings in a presentation and discussion.

    If the dimming of KIC 8462 is a result of Gold Disease then the next mission that Kepler has taken on would see the same dimming take place because of the Gold Disease. If there are not any dims taking place on the next mission then changes in the instrumentation is not the problem.

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