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Frontiers of Astronomy: Tabetha Boyajian

Date: Thu. December 5th, 2019, 8:00 pm-9:00 pm
Location: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Planet Hunters and the Most Mysterious Star in the Galaxy

Tabetha Boyajian (Louisiana State University)

Abstract: The NASA Kepler Mission provided 4 year long, ultra-precise light curves for over 150,000 stars with a primary science goal of finding transiting planets. In Kepler’s field of view was KIC 8462852, a star citizen scientists identified to have unusual brightness variations.  This otherwise seemingly normal F star underwent erratic and completely unpredictable dips in flux ranging from <1% to more than 20%, with each event lasting from days to weeks at a time.  In addition to this puzzling variability, the star was later discovered to undergo variable secular declines in its brightness over month, year, decade, and even century-long timescales.

Good explanations for the unusual light curve for KIC 8462852 have been hard to find. Various theories range from instrumental artifacts to assorted stellar, circumstellar, interstellar, and solar system astrophysical scenarios, to even invoking the presence of alien technology. By considering the observational constraints, we find that most scenarios either have problems explaining the data in hand or invoke extraordinarily rare or contrived circumstances to occur in nature as we know it, contradicting the principle of Occam’s razor.  I will talk about the discovery, recent developments, and future work planned to study this star, and show how you can follow along and help with this celestial mystery.

Bio:  Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian is an astrophysicist on faculty at Louisiana State University interested in the precise characterization of the stars nearest our Sun, with a particular focus on those that host exoplanets.  She also is a science team member of the Planet Hunters citizen science project, and the lead investigator behind the infamous star KIC 8462852, known as “Boyajian’s Star” in her honor.

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