Scientists have begun work on the Breakthrough Initiative, a $100m (£80m) investigation into a mysterious star that is puzzling astronomers because of the unusual way it dims. Amid speculation of alien involvement, the majority of scientists believe the reason is down to a less exciting possibility - one that it is due to a huge meteor shower.
KIC 8462852 - also known as Tabby's Star and named after the astronomer that found it - Louisiana State University Professor Tabetha Boyajian, is located 1,500 light years from earth in the constellation Cygnus.
Usually, when planets or meteors pass in front of a star, light is reduced for short periods by 1% or 2%. With Tabby's Star, the reduction is up to 22%, and can last for days at a time. Some studies suggest the star has been dimming consistently for up to a century.
Astronomers are yet to explain how a meteor could have such an effect, while some "citizen scientists" involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) believe an alien race could be constructing a gigantic sphere , known as a Dyson Structure, around the star to drain its energy.
Those involved in the Breakthrough Initiative point out that no previous studies have detected unusual signals. The project involves training the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia on Tabby's Star for eight hours a night over the next two months, beginning on Wednesday (26 October). The study is backed by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, Facebook's Mark Zuckerbeg and Professor Stephen Hawking,
Andrew Siemion, co-director of Breakthrough, told Berkeley website: "The Green Bank Telescope is the largest, fully steerable radio telescope on the planet, and it's the largest, most sensitive telescope that's capable of looking at Tabby's star, given its position in the sky.
"We've deployed a fantastic new SETI instrument that connects to that telescope, that can look at many gigahertz of bandwidth simultaneously and many, many billions of different radio channels all at the same time so we can explore the radio spectrum very, very quickly."
However alien hunters may be disappointed by the results of the study. Berkeley SETI chief scientist, Dan Werthimer, said the odds of finding a Dyson Structure are extremely low. "I don't think it's very likely - a one in a billion chance or something like that - but nevertheless, we're going to check it out," Werthimer told the BBC.
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