Another star found that dims strangely like Tabby’s Star


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Astronomers have found a second star that dims in an inexplicable manner, like Tabby’s Star.

Known as VVV-WIT-07, the star appears to be much older and redder than our sun, although the amount of interstellar dust between our solar system and the star’s home closer to the galactic center makes exact classification and distance measurements very difficult. What is certain is that in the summer of 2012, the object’s brightness faded slightly for 11 days, then plummeted over the following 48 days, suggesting that something blocked more than three quarters of the star’s light streaming toward Earth. But what could that “something” be?

According to Eric Mamajek, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester unaffiliated with the VVV survey, such a profound degree of dimming suggests that a staggeringly large object or group of objects is blocking the light. “It’s got to be over a million kilometers wide, and very dense to be able to block that much starlight,” he says. Mamajek should know: He led the team that discovered J1407, another strange star periodically eclipsed by a planet-sized object thought to boast a massive ring system some 200 times broader than that of Saturn. In this latest case, he says, the strange signals from VVV-WIT-07 could arise from clumps or clouds of material passing between Earth and the star, though he cautioned that the data were preliminary and more observations are required.

Tabetha Boyajian agrees. Boyajian, an astronomer at Louisiana State University, was the lead author for the 2015 paper announcing the strange dimming of KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star, an unusual object first spotted by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. VVV-WIT-07 would have to harbor “a very peculiar kind of dust cloud to make these kinds of dips,” Boyajian says. Boyajian’s study helped spark a surge of public interest in Tabby’s Star because the star’s unusual dimming could be seen as evidence of an alien civilization building an artificial structure that soaked up the star’s light. More conventional explanations include a swarm of comets or fragments from a shattered planet, both of which would create significant clouds of dust and debris that could also occlude the star’s light. But, so far, no simple single explanation fits the complexities of the dimming seen around the star; researchers remain stymied in their attempts to understand the true nature of the strange dimming of Tabby’s Star.

As is usually the case in these cases, the explanation will not be aliens. That it could be, however, is what makes it so intriguing.

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7 comments

  • hondo

    I don’t know
    Taking the term variable to a whole new level?
    Can an internal solar reaction be that extreme?

  • Andi

    Perhaps that should be “dims in an UNexplicable manner”?

  • Andi: I had intended to type “inexplicable.” Post fixed. Thank you.

  • Max

    When I look at the center of our own milky way galaxy, near Sagittarius, all I see is a black blackness where the brightest part of our galaxy should be… Why are the aliens hiding this from us? What is it that they don’t want us to see… (Sarcasm alert)

  • Max: I am immediately reminded of Larry Niven’s classic short story, “At the Core.” A must read. It is scientifically dated now, but brilliant nonetheless.

  • Max

    I have not heard of that one, I will need to look it up when I get off work.

    I have some of his books, angel fall, ring world, I really like lucifers hammer… which appeals to the Prepper side of me, the Boy Scout who’s motto is to be prepared for everything. Even the ultimate natural disaster.
    Ring world with more fantasy than science fiction. But the mathematics of the largeness of the alien creation, The vast amount of civilizations with plenty of room for everyone on the ultimate ark is mine boggling. Haven’t compared the science with a Dyson sphere…

  • pzatchok

    A Dyson Sphere the size of the Ring world??!!!!!!

    Obviously not all of it would be habitable in the normal sense. The poles and the areas close to them would have gravity far to low to hold atmosphere.

    But just imagine if 80% or better of all the energy of a sun could be harnessed and used.

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