I’ve been following this bizarre story for a few months now—and things just took a turn for the weird(er).
Since late last year, Star KIC 8462852 has been stumping astronomers for its erratic “flickering” (sometimes losing as much as 20 percent of its brightness), prompting scientists to propose everything from the presence of comet cloud dust to alien megastructures.
But, as it turns out, the gradual dimming of KIC is nothing new.
In a new study, astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University analyzed digitally scanned photographic plates of the sky, dating back to the late 1800s. After averaging the data in five-year bins, Schaefer found that the star faded by about 20 percent between 1890 and 1989.
“The century-long dimming and the day-long dips are both just extreme ends of a spectrum of timescales for unique dimming events, so by Ockham’s Razor, all this is produced by one physical mechanism. This one mechanism does not appear as any isolated catastrophic event in the last century, but rather must be some ongoing process with continuous effects.”
To confirm his findings, Schaefer also looked at the original photographic plates, archived at Harvard University, and inspected them by eye for changes (a lost art in the astronomical field). Even in his manual readings, Schaefer noticed the same century-long dimming, calculating that 648,000 giant comets (each one with a 200 kilometer diameter) would have needed to pass by the star in order to explain such strange behavior.
You don’t have to be a Harvard scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Captain Spock to see how implausible that is—thus driving a nail into the comet theory coffin.
“Either one of our refutations has some hidden loophole, or some theorist needs to come up with some other proposal,” Schaefer said.
The mystery continues.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense