Watch as astronomers around the world co-ordinate to observe the most mysterious star in the universe

About 1300 light years away, is a star called the “most mysterious star in the universe.” The star has many names including Tabby’s Star, Boyajian’s Star and the WTF Star (the WTF stands for What is the Flux?). The official designation of the star is KIC 8462852. It is an F type main sequence star, similar to our own sun.

What makes it remarkable is its odd light signature. The Kepler telescope showed that the star was dimming unusually during two events in 2011 and 2013. The dimming event in 2011 was far more than what even a planet the size of Jupiter would have caused to the Sun. In 2013, there was a whole complex of dips in the brightness of the star, indicating several overlapping instances of multiple massive objects passing in front of the star. Historical data from archived Harvard slides showed that the star had been steadily dimming over the past century. Scientists believe that the same phenomenon is causing both the steady dimming, as well as the sudden dimming.

If a planet is passing between the star and the earth, then the dimming should have been seen in regular intervals. However, that is not the case, and the dimming is erratic. Suggested theories to explain the light signature of the star include a warped star, dust and comets, and even an alien megastructure known as a dyson sphere from a civilization more advanced than humans.

It is this third hypothesis that makes the star an object of interest for the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). This short video below from UC Berkeley explains what the whole deal about the star is.

In May 2017, the star suddenly started dimming again. Professor. Jason Wright, Associate Professor at the department of Astrophysics called for astronomers around the world to observe the star during the dimming event. Telescopes around the world are engaged in various very expensive studies, and there is usually a strict schedule according to which they observe portions of the sky.

When an unexpected event occurs, astronomers around the world end up co-ordinating on large email threads, trying to figure out a way to make the telescopes observe the event. At the time of the incident, Wright was visiting UC Berkely, and went live with Berkeley SETI Director Dr. Andrew Siemion as the data on the event started pouring in. The video stream can be seen here:

The CHARA array associated with the Georgia State University in the US, The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) from the SETI institute in the US, the HARPS-N spectrograph from the University of Geneva in Chile, the Las Cumbres Observatory which is a global network of eight telescopes, and the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo from Spain were among those instruments that interrupted their regular projects to observe the star.

Tabetha Boyajian, after whom the star has been named, explains exactly why KIC 8462852 is the most mysterious star in the universe in this TED talk from 2016.

Published Date: May 25, 2017 16:32 PM | Updated Date: May 25, 2017 16:32 PM