Kepler Telescope: The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy

One star out of nearly 150,000 stars observed by the Keplar Telescope has scientists talking.

The stange flickering habits of one star are puzzling scientists and prompting talk of everything from comet fragments to the more unlikely possibility of alien life.

The odd dips in light of the star, which is located approximately 1,500 light years away and is called KIC 8462852, were uncovered by professional and citizen scientists looking at Kepler Space Telescope data through the Planet Hunters program.

The majority of data from the deep Kepler telescopes is processed by computer algorithms designed to look for patterns, Planet Hunters allows citizen scientists to give the data a manual look in case any unusual patterns are spotted, which is what happened in the mysterious case of KIC 8462852.

Kepler Telescope

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Tabetha Boyajian, an astronomer at Yale University wrote a paper, which was published in the Monthly Notes of the Royals Astronomical Society.

“It was kind of unbelievable that it was real data,” Boyajian told the New Scientist. “We were scratching our heads. For any idea that came up there was always something that would argue against it.”

While the paper explores what could be causing the star’s strange behavior and doesn’t mention aliens, Boyajin wrote “the scenario most consistent with the data in hand is the passage of a family of exocomet fragments, all of which are associated with a single previous breakup event.”

With the theoretical comets orbiting the star and continuing to break up and spread, it could explain the dips in brightness. When the dips occurred, they would last anywhere from five to 80 days, according to the paper.

Writing on his blog, Jason Wright, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University found the star “inexplicable.”

While Boyajian and her team had a tentative explanation, Wright said he “would put low odds on that being the right answer, but it’s the best one I’ve seen so far (and much more likely than aliens, I’d say),” referring to the speculation by some that the mysterious dips in light were due to massive structures built around the star by an advanced civilization.

“If I had to guess I’d say the star is young, despite all appearances,” he wrote. “I can’t back that up.”

Data from Kepler showing KIC 8462852 starlight going up and down on a timescale of 20 or so days. The 20 day pattern continued for weeks before disappearing completely.

Data from Kepler showing KIC 8462852 starlight going up and down on a timescale of 20 or so days. The 20 day pattern continued for weeks before disappearing completely.

While the mystery remains to be solved definitely, scientists unfortunately won’t have any new Kepler data to look at to help reach a conclusion. The telescope was damaged in 2013, leaving researchers without some more recent data about possible dips in light on the star — if there were any.

What do you think the Kepler Telescope is showing? Let us know in the comment section below

Image of the Milky Way that includes the Kepler field of view (Credit: Carter Roberts).

Image of the Milky Way that includes the Kepler field of view (Credit: Carter Roberts).