In September 2015, American astronomer Tabetha Boyajian announced the discovery of the star KIC 8462852 . This celestial body, also known as the Tabby, is a yellow-white star that is located 1470 light years from Earth. KIC 8462852 is not a star like the others. His behavior intrigued researchers. KIC 8462852 indeed presents variations in brightness that they cannot explain.
Scientists have noted drops in its brightness at times without knowing the origin. Sometimes it would lose up to 22% of its brightness before shining again. Over the past five years, experts have made several hypotheses to understand this phenomenon, but to no avail. Some have given it an extraterrestrial origin. Others have blamed these variations in luminosity for comets.
Recently, it was learned that researchers may be on the verge of unraveling the mystery of KIC 8462852 .
Flashes caused by a companion star?
Since 2016, a team of astronomers led by researcher Logan Pearce of the University of Arizona (United States) has sought to find the origin of the flashes of KIC 8462852. After four years of intensive research, they seem to have found a explanation to this phenomenon. According to them, these variations in brightness are due to the presence of a companion star near KIC 8462852.
The results of their study were pre-published on arXiV on January 15, 2021. After being peer reviewed, their research was published in the scientific journal The Astrophysical Journal. They explain in particular how a companion star could be responsible for variations in the luminosity of KIC 8462852.
A system bound by gravity
Testing this hypothesis was no easy feat. Researchers had to go through years of observational data. This information was collected using the Keck II telescope at the WM Keck Observatory, located on the island of Hawaii.
After a series of analyzes, they came to the conclusion that KIC 8462852 could form "a binary system linked by gravity" with its companion star. This second hypothetical star would be at a distance of 880 astronomical units from KIC 8462852. It was named KIC 8462852 B.
“KIC 8462852 is unlikely to directly influence the light curve of KIC 8462852 due to its distance. However, the binary companion can influence the long term evolution of the system ”