I rather like it when scientists come up against something they can’t understand. Tabby’s star is one such conundrum. Its behaviour is – pun intended – out of this world.
One of the ways in which astronomers search for exoplanets is to see if the brightness of a star dips as a planet moves in front of it. Such dips are quite small and quite regular, matching the orbit and size of the exoplanet. Except for Tabby’s star. Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered by this method, and they all display the nice regularity I’ve described. Except for Tabby’s star.
It’s light dips massively above the 1% a Jupiter sized planet moving in front of it would cause; as much as 15% and 22% have been recorded. The equivalent of something massive enough to obscure half of the surface area of the star. And when it does brightens again, that too is not as expected. Instead of the dip and the rise being the same shape, as current theory says it should, they do not match. Furthermore, even the occurrence of these dips is irregular and difficult to explain. Finally, to add to the mystery, apparently, Tabby’s star has been getting progressively dimmer over the last 100 years or so, (the star was first observed in 1890).
The name “Tabby’s Star” or “Boyajian’s Star” refer to the initial study’s lead author, Tabetha S. Boyajian. The star’s proper nomenclature is KIC 8462852. It didn’t show up in a computer led search for exoplanets and was found by good old fashioned humans. These same humans have come up with many explanations for the behaviour of the star, including of course, aliens at work. But currently, there are no explanations that fit the observations. Although there are a lot of astronomers working on the puzzle and trying to come up with said explanations. Just google “Tabby’s star” and see.
Which I rather like! One little pointer to the fact that we still have a lot to learn about this Universe that we live in!!
If anyone wants proof that we have a long way to go in understanding the way the Universe works, look no further than entanglement. Einstein hated it. He called it “spooky action at a distance”, trying to prove with others that it was a flaw in the theory of quantum physics.
But it does work. And it has been proved to work time after time. And not only that, it works instantly, over vast distances. Entangle or “link’ two particles, change an aspect of one, and the other changes – instantly. Even though as Einstein showed, you cannot travel faster than the speed of light, disruption of entanglement is an instant process.
And physicists can’t explain it. Well, that’s not strictly true. There is one explanation, but it’s such a mind boggling explanation, that most people shy away from it.
The explanation – that everything is already connected! You, me, the stars, every atom in the whole Universe.
It’s remarkable that it is only just over a century before the first flight of an aeroplane, and yet, passing brightly and rapidly overhead was a spaceship carrying six other human beings.
Now there is talk of a Mars colony, a return to the Moon, and even light sails that can cut the journey to another Star to years rather than decades.
But I wondered what human-kind would take into deep space along with them. Greed, hate, intolerance, probably.
But I hoped not.
And then I thought again of the International Space Station that I had seen earlier. It was built by former enemies, now working in cooperation, it carried men and women of different nationalities, people with courage and resolve, prepared to journey through Earth’s atmosphere to get to it and back, let alone to orbit for months in that tiny, fragile tin can. And then to live and work together.
Currently, Scholz’s star is a small, dim red dwarf in the constellation of Monoceros, about 20 light-years away, and now moving away from us. However, about 70,000 years ago, it just grazed the outer reaches of the solar system as it wandered by, accompanied by its brown dwarf companion.
At the closest point in its flyby of the solar system, Scholz’s star would have been a 10th magnitude star – about 50 times fainter than can normally be seen with the naked eye at night. But because it is magnetically active, such stars can “flare” and briefly become thousands of times brighter. So it is possible that Scholz’s star may have been visible to the naked eye by our ancestors 70,000 years ago for minutes or hours at a time during these flaring events.
What would our ancestors have made of this stranger in the heavens? What would we have made of it a thousand years ago if it were passing by us then and not 70,000 years previously?
The structure of the Universe bubbles and froths. Particles and ghost particles come into existence, embrace, and vanish.From this quantum energy was born the Stars, the Planets, all, the all that includes us.
What is this energy that confounds science?The name they give it is “the vacuum energy”.But can it’s true name be Love, Love unbounded perhaps?
I look to the heavens for meaning, not for science, although I find meaning in the science.
I feel the weight of all of humankind who have also gazed up on a starry night and wondered about the meaning of life, the Universe, and their own destiny.
Were their questions mine?I suspect so, and what answers did they find?What knowledge did the Wise Seers amass? The Druids, for example, spent 30 years learning their craft and were renowned in antiquity for their knowledge of the heavens, and before them, came the builders of the Stone Circles which predicted the movement of the Cosmos.