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Will a consensus explanation of the strange behavior of the star KIC 8462852 emerge this year?

NASA’s Kepler Mission revealed that the star KIC 8462852, a.k.a. "Tabby's Star" displays severe, aperiodic dips in brightness that have so far defied conventional astrophysical explanations.

Several explanations for this behavior have been put forward, ranging from a family of comets, to the indigestive aftereffects of the consumption of a planet by the star, to a swarm of artificial, orbiting “megastructures.”

Very recently, KIC 8462852 has begun to dim again. Observations taken between May 18th and 19th 2017 show a 2% diminution of light from the star. A variety of telescopes are now being trained on the star, and will obtain data across the electromagnetic spectrum. Included in these follow-up efforts are campaigns that are specifically designed to look for evidence of artificially generated signals. The authors of the Astronomical Telegram describing the current dimming of the star write:

We will continue our monitoring observations using Swift, LCO, and Fairborn, as well as our >spectroscopic observations as part of the Breakthrough Listen program using the APF-Levy >spectrometer at Lick Observatory (27 epochs obtained since Nov 21, 2015). Near-InfraRed Optical >SETI (NIROSETI) on the Nickel 1-m telescope at Lick Observatory has been monitoring Boyajian's >Star, conducting 65 minutes of observations of the star UT 2017 May 20, and will continue to monitor >the star UT 2017 May 21, 22, and 23. We encourage additional multi-wavelength follow-up. >Especially interesting would be lines in the region between H-alpha and the sodium doublet, >inclusive, and thermal infrared measurements.

As of May 20, 2017, no consensus explanation of this star's behavior has emerged. It seems quite plausible, however, that multi-wavelength observations of the star while it is undergoing dimming may serve to sort out the mystery. We thus ask:

Will a consensus emerge in 2017?

We'll use the following criteria to specify consensus. Let N be the number of refereed published journal papers that:

  • provide an explanation for the aperiodic dips seen in KIC 8462852, and
  • are cited by at least one published paper, or two preprints, supporting their explanation with additional analysis and/or data, and
  • are cited at least 5 times in total, and
  • are not cited by a published, refereed paper refuting the given explanation.

If N=1 we will consider a consensus to have been reached. If N > 1, and if all of the explanations are qualitatively the same, i.e. involving the same essential physics and objects (e.g. "Comet breakup"), we will also consider consensus to have been reached. Otherwise, we will consider that consensus has not yet been reached.


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