Researchers from the University of Antioquia in Columbia proposed a new explanation for the weird light behavior of the so-called “Alien Megastructure” star. It seems a ringed-exoplanet the size of Neptune might be the cause.


A team of scientists led by Mario Sucerquia at the University of Antioquia (UdeA) in Colombia have suggested a new explanation for the irregular dips in brightness of the star KIC 8462852, since it recently resumed its unusual behavior. The mysterious shift in stellar opacity could be the signature of a transiting Saturn-like exoplanet. “[W]e study the dynamics of a tilted exoring […] to explain irregular and anomalous transit signals of close-in ringed planets, as well as the rings’ early evolutionary stages,” the researchers wrote.

A team of astronomers led by Yale University’s Tabetha Boyajian first noted the unusual behavior of a star called KIC 8462852 back in 2015. Normally, stars observed from Earth can be seen to dim whenever a planet passes in front of it, in what’s called a transit. That wasn’t the case for KIC 8462852, later dubbed “Tabby’s star.” A flurry of explanations followed, from rogue comets to a colossal “megastructure” orbiting the star  supposedly built by extraterrestrials.

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Sucerquia and his colleagues tested their idea through simulations of how light curves when a ringed planet transits its star from about one-tenth the distance of the Earth from the Sun. A ringed exoplanet creates irregular dips in brightness when its ring first blocks some of the star and then the planet passes to dim it even more. Afterwards, the rings block it again. These transits would produce no obvious pattern as the rings could be at a different angle each time.