Are you new to the mysteries of “Tabby’s Star” and alien megastructures? Go ahead and catch up here—we’ll wait.
Dr. Tabby Boyajian
It’s got to be tough being an astronomer these days, what, with all the talk about aliens.
Everyone on the street keeps asking about alien megastructures, and what’s making Tabby’s Star keep dimming like that. Worse, if they’re honest, they have to admit: we have no idea what’s making it dim. Yes, it really could be aliens, because there’s really no natural explanation for it.
Less scrupulous scientists (I’m looking at you, Phil Plait) just can’t bring themselves to say “aliens”. They’ll keep bringing up comets, even though that idea has been debunked—comets just don’t hang around in front of a star for four years (much less a century). It can’t be aliens because it can’t be aliens. Right?
Aliens—But Maybe No Megastructures?
Now, a German research scientist has published a new paper with a new explanation—and yes, he says, it’s aliens. (Phil Plait, the self-styled “bad astronomer”, was busy banging his head against a wall and could not be reached for comment.)
Professor Eduard Heindl from Furtwangen University in Germany has constructed a mathematical model in which an advanced alien civilization could “mine” a large star for raw materials. “If a super civilization has used all raw material of its planets, they could found more in their star,” Dr. Heindl told reporters. “For example, our sun has at least 6,000 times more metals as the planets. To mine this resource, they have to lift the material of their star into an orbit to cool down the stuff and use it.
“‘This is done,” the professor said, “by ‘star lifting’”.
What’s “Star Lifting”?
“Star lifting” is a term that describes a process in which an advanced civilization removes raw material from a star—mining from it, so to speak.
The professor’s paper describes streams of matter leaving the star, similar to jets of solar energy. By carefully manipulating the stream, he suggests, an alien race could capture the energy and materials, and later harness it.
“We don’t know exactly how to do that,” Heindl said, “but a good guess is, heat one spot of the sun beyond the normal temperature (6,000°K) by mirrors and generate a beam of matter by magnetic fields.”
Professor Eduard Heindl: Maybe
Not a Megastructure, But It’s
The process the professor describes would have a side effect: it would cause the star to appear to dim if viewed from a vast distance.
“We describe a mathematical approximation to the light curve, which is motivated by a physically meaningful event of a large stellar beam which generates an orbiting cloud,” he said.
In plain English: mining a star creates big clouds of star-stuff that will make the star seem to dim.
The problem with a theory like this is that it’s difficult—at the moment—to test. Meanwhile, research astronomers around the world continue to look for compelling evidence to explain the weirdness of Tabby’s Star. So far? No reasonable explanation found in nature.
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) continues to listen for telltale radio signals from the wayward star. Another project, the Russian-funded Breakthough Listen, is putting $100 million into an effort to find evidence of intelligent from the direction of the star, as well.