Artist rendering of dusty comets approaching star KIC8462852, an interpretation of the mysterious objects that periodically block out substantial amounts of the star’s light. Known informally as “Tabby’s” star, it was discovered by citizen scientists using Kepler Space Telescope data, and they are looking for ways to continue their work. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
It’s been eight months since citizen “Planet Hunters” working with Yale postdoc Tabetha Boyajian announced the discovery of a most unusual star, or rather a star where something most unusual was intermittently and erratically happening.
The puzzle began with some light curve data, taken over a four year period, by the Kepler Space Telescope The citizen planet hunters pored through reams of data sent back by Kepler looking for signals of planetary transits — the ever-so-slight dimmings of the star caused by the crossing or an orbiting exoplanet.
But the light curve for KIC 8462852 showed dimmings that were anything but slight, and anything but regular. The Planet Hunters flagged the star for Boyajian’s groups attention, and the mystery star was born.
Theories on what was causing the very large dips ranged from a host of enormous comets, to a violently exploding planet, to an asteroid belt or the ...