About two years ago, astronomers noticed that an abnormal amount of light was being blocked from a star system dubbed KIC-8462852, which is located over 1,277 light years away from Earth.
The first and most absurd explanations to surface on the internet at the time was that some kind of giant alien megastructure was orbiting the star, but astronomers have since been observing the system on and off since the discovery to come up with a natural explanation.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech
While not much is known about everything going on in this system, we do know at up to 20% of its light ends up getting blocked out every so often like clockwork by a myriad of individual objects floating around the star; many of which would have to be incredibly massive to block this sheer volume of light.
The temporary ‘dimming’ effect that was first observed back in 2015 is starting to happen once again after a long lull period. Astronomers are doing everything in their power to learn more about the root cause of these curious circumstances by collecting as much data as possible from numerous angles.
Not only are high-profile astronomers tuning into the system, but word about this strange system has circled around enough that even amateur astronomers are trying to figure out what’s going on; observatories around the world are watching as the light continues to dim.
Since a 20% light blockage is an atypical occurrence, all cards are currently on the table. For comparison, a Jupiter-sized world getting in between our telescopes and the star would only block about 1% of its light, so something way out of our realm of understanding could be going on here to block 20 times that much light.
Interestingly, the patterns are not typical for orbiting planets, so astronomers are considering other possibilities. It could be a massive field of comets or asteroids, but even these kinds of objects aren’t known to get big enough to block up to 20% of a star’s light.
By viewing the system with different wavelengths, we might have a better chance at determining what’s causing this phenomenon. Certain objects are invisible at certain wavelengths, and by broadening our spectrum, astronomers may be able to determine what type of material is blocking the light, which in turn could help us explain what’s circling the star.
At this point in time, your guess is as good as anyone else’s. Astronomers have limited periods of time to observe the star during these dimming episodes, which severely limits their discoveries. They were lucky to discover the system as it was in the middle of a dimming period, which means all eyes are currently on the system while it behaves erratically.
While it won’t be a quick process to decipher the data that gets collected, it ought to be interesting to find out if anything new gets discovered this time around.