Tabby's Star: Is It Beginning To Look A Lot Like Aliens?

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The mystery surrounding Tabby's Star just ratched up another notch. Or down, considering the data outlined in Benjamin Montet and Joshua Simon's latest submission to the arXiv, "KIC 8462852 Faded Throughout The Kepler Mission". Everyone's favorite "megastructure" star continues to confound mainstream astronomers and the taboo of last resort, aliens, is still on the table.

Montet and Simon discovered KIC 8462852, a.k.a. Tabby's Star, dimmed by 2.5% over the course of Kepler's mission to survey the heavens for alien planets. The data lends support to Bradley Schafer's conclusion [1] that Tabby's Star steadily dimmed from 1890 to 1989. What everyone and their telescope are getting excited about is the rate of dimming has been increasing according to the Kepler data.

If the rate of dimming increases, this could be the product of self-replicating machines or von Neumann devices tasked to build this putative alien megastructure. When I looked at Montet and Simon's graphs, I had an insight on how they could suggest the possibility of self-replicating machines or aliens. Rather than charting the curve of the dimming light, but the 'growth' of material or machines causing the dimming, the a graph would show a sigmoid curve. In biology, sigmoid curves illustrate population growth [2, 3] through three phases of transitional and exponential growth before reaching a plateau. In this context transitional growth may be the dust of "construction crews" tearing apart an object for raw materials, followed by exponential growth as another segment of the megastructure is created, before plateauing as the 'bots travel to the next planetary or cometary resource a mere handful of astronomical units away.

The prospect of aliens, despite my speculation, remains unfalsifiable for now. But Montet and Simon do a handy job outlining the unlikely natural explanations most sane scientists would embrace. Astronomers have observed polar star spots on F-type stars like KIC 8462852, but those F-type stars are cooler and smaller in contrast. Also polar spots can't explain the short-term dips previously observed by Tabetha Boyajian, et al.. Some of the proposed transit events under suspicion for the star's dimming are even less likely.

For an optically thick transiting object, the 2.5% transit depth indicates a minimum radius of 0.15R* (Boyajian et al. 2016 estimate a radius of 1.58 R☉ for KIC 8462852). If the transiting body is in a Keplerian orbit, the extremely slow ingress time and long transit duration place it at the implausibly large distance of ~10 PC, with a transit possibility of ~10-9.

Fingers are crossed that the Tabby's Star observing campaign with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, currently underway after the successful Kickstarter, will capture one of the mysterious long transits. Should the cause is a solid object, like a megastructure, then the dimming of KIC 8462852's light would be achromatic. On the other hand if the culprit is dust and/or gas, then the starlight would redden.

Maybe in a year we'll know for certain if the alien hypothesis is still worth consideration. Perhaps some science fiction-types will find inspiration around Tabby's Star for another big dumb object to fit the mystery. In either case, our interesting times are becoming more interesting by the moment.

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  1. KIC 8462852 Faded at an Average Rate of 0.165+-0.013 Magnitudes Per Century From 1890 To 1989 - https://arxiv.org/abs/1601.03256
  2. Populations - http://ibguides.com/biology/notes/popula...
  3. Explain the sigmoid population growth curve - http://ibbiology.wikifoundry.com/page/Ex...

News Briefs 09-08-2016

Comet-eater...

Quote of the Day:

It seems that every time someone looks at the star, it gets weirder and weirder

Benjamin Montet, on KIC 8462852.

Special Effects Legend Douglas Trumbull Talks About How He Has Created a System for Capturing UFOs

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

If you were to survey sci-fi geeks for a list of their favourite movies, there's a fairly good chance that somewhere near the top of that list you'd find Bladerunner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So it's easy to understand the legendary status of Douglas Trumbull within sci-fi geekdom, given he helped design the visual effects on all three of those seminal films.

When Jacques Vallee ran a crowd-funding campaign last year to create a collector's edition of Wonders in the Sky, his book with Chris Aubeck about historical sightings of UFOs, I was surprised to learn that Trumbull was one of the backers of the project. As it turns out though, Trumbull has been interested in the UFO phenomenon for some time now (in retrospect, it's probably not that surprising, given two of the three films above are specifically about humans making contact with an alien intelligence).

In a video interview posted by Open Minds (embedded below), Trumbull describes his interest in 'scientific ufology', and how he thinks he could help the effort with his own skills and network, by designing a 'UFO capture' system he calls UFOTOG:

When I started making inroads into MUFON and the UFO community, I found that there were a number of very highly-placed and credible people, like Jacques Vallee, like air-traffic controllers, like doctors, like scientists, who took the whole thing very seriously - mixed in with a lot of people who were into auras, and spirituality, and other kinds of things that were more hearsay than science. And I didn't like that part of it, I've never liked the hearsay part of it, I didn't like people telling their stories, even though many of them are tremendously compelling and heartbreaking - abduction stories in particular. I said well, you can't prove any of that, there's no evidence, there's nothing to do.

I started asking those people, has anybody ever mounted a scientific endeavour, a privately funded scientific endeavour, to quantify what a UFO is made up of, and how fast does it go, and how high does it fly, and where does it come from, and is it changing state from plasma energy to aluminum or whatever? And the answer was no, no-one had ever done that. And I said, well, I'm going to make that my mission, because that sounds like fun to me, 'cause I'm a geek.

So that was the beginning of UFOTOG, to try and spend at least some part of my hobby time going down that path, like an amateur astronomer.

UFOTOG - the name is a contraction of 'UFO photography' - is a UFO video tracking and capture system that came about when Trumbull considered how his own skill-set could best be put to use in seeking answers to the UFO mystery: "I had access to these high-end cameras, access to engineers who build motion-control systems that we use for movies that could be adapted to tracking systems and things like that."

Interestingly, even with his legendary status, Trumbull soon discovered how heretical the idea of scientifically researching the UFO phenomenon can be. "That's when I started finding out that talking about science fiction is fine," he notes, while "talking about actually capturing UFOs is not fine...it's actually antagonistically greeted." Trumbull even tried pitching the idea to 'reality TV' producers, but "couldn't get any traction at all...and I've got a really good resume."

In the video, Trumbull also discusses his work on 2001, why he turned down Star Wars but worked on Close Encounters, and how he created a science fiction movie about UFOs as a cover for his effort to photograph UFOs - even designing the story "so that if we actually got real photography, we could put that into the movie and suddenly the movie would become non-fiction".

News Briefs 08-08-2016

All out of bubblegum...

Thanks Blair.

Quote of the Day:

Outside the limit of our sight, feeding off us, perched on top of us, from birth to death, are our owners! Our owners! They have us. They control us! They are our masters! Wake up! They're all about you! All around you!

They Live

Supercut of References to Movies of the 70s and 80s Made in Netflix's Stranger Things

If you're a middle-aged weirdling like myself, chances are that you that you have enjoyed the latest Netflix hit, Stranger Things. With heavy doses of mid-80s Spielberg, mixed with a few other elements of sci-fi and horror movies of that period, the series is heavy on the nostalgia while also having plenty of fun with the genre.

Whether you're familiar with the 'source' material or not, the above supercut provides plenty of insights into how Stranger Things cops all those classic movies.

This is a supercut of selected scenes from the Netflix TV series "Stranger Things" associated with scenes from 1970-1980s movies.

Spot all the references of the producers of the series:

  • The Goonies
  • Alien
  • E.T the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Firestarter
  • Poltergeist
  • Close encounters of the third kind
  • A nightmare on Elm Street
  • Explorers
  • The Shining
  • Stand by me
  • Carrie
  • Commando

Have you found more references ? Tell me in comments.

Link: References to 70-80’s movies in Stranger Things

News Briefs 05-08-2016

"To know to stop where they cannot arrive by means of knowledge is the highest attainment..."

Quote of the Day:

“...Those who cannot do this will be destroyed on the lathe of Heaven.”

Zhuang Zhou

TED Can Hold a Grudge: New Graham Hancock TEDx Talk Pasted with Disclaimer About 'Counterfactual Assertions'

Disclaimer on TEDx Talk by Graham Hancock

Read more fascinating articles like this one by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter.

Just over three years ago, TED took the extraordinary step of removing videos of TEDx presentations by 'alternative history researcher' Graham Hancock and 'maverick biologist' Rupert Sheldrake. This move met with a mountain of opposition, as TED seemed to be censoring certain ideas that challenged the orthodox worldview - and they only inflamed the situation further when they offered bogus reasoning for doing so.

This view - that TED was censoring ideas that challenged the current scientific and historical paradigm - only seemed more likely when, just a month later, they removed the licence of TEDxWestHollywood, with a theme named "Brother can you spare a paradigm", just a couple of weeks before the event was scheduled to take place.

Fast forward to 2016, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. A video posted to YouTube of Graham Hancock giving a talk at TEDxReading (in March this year) - titled "Is the house of history built on foundations of sand?" - has been pasted with the annotation seen above across the centre of the screen: "This talk, which was filmed at an independent TEDx event, falls outside TEDx's curatorial guidelines. Read more below."

And here's what the 'read more below' is:

NOTE from TED: Please be aware that this talk contains outdated and counterfactual assertions, and should not be understood as a representation of modern scholarship on ancient civilizations.

If ancient civilizations interest you, TEDx Talks contain many fascinating and well-researched talks such as:

Sarah Parcak's talk on space arachaeology at TEDxYale:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GKzs...

Leslie van Gelder's talk on cave art at TEDxQueenstown:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYGPc...

Sarah Kenderdine's talk on museums of the future at TEDxGateway:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXhtw...

Here's the video for those interested in watching. Happily, the silly placard over the video can be removed rather simply by clicking on the settings button, and turning off 'annotations':

Graham Hancock has responded on his Facebook page to this latest TED controversy, noting his surprise at what has happened, as he had taken great care this time not to provide TED with any ammunition for another video deletion:

I was very careful with this talk. Indeed I did something I've never done before which was to read it to make sure no slip of the tongue, or over-running of the extremely limited time allocated, could be used by TED to delete it from Youtube as they did with my last one.

I don't like reading talks from a carefully pre-prepared script, but having done so in this single case I am quite certain that the ideas I present are NOT "outdated and counter-factual" as TED allege and I challenge them to provide evidence to support this smear.

Hancock says this latest move has solidified the idea to him that "TED is a tool of the dominator society that seeks to keep us all asleep, and that believes itself to be the fount and guardian of all legitimate knowledge".

Graham Hancock's most recent book is Magicians of the Gods, and it is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Related stories:

News Briefs 04-08-2016

Support the Grail with just a $1 donation, and you could win this signed Alan Moore comic (and other cool things in future)!

Quote of the Day:

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Culture Next Door: Tabby's Star Remains Strange... And Unique

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Also known by its designation KIC 8462852, Tabby's Star continues to perplex astronomers and mainstream science bloggers.

News broke in September 2015 after citizen scientists noted the abrupt, non-periodic dimming of this distant F-type star. F-type stars are like our sun, but bigger and hotter. Hard line skeptics dismissed the phenomenon as comets, but evidence has yet to emerge supporting this hypothesis. Currently astronomers and cosmologists can't imagine how ~648,000 giant comets could coordinate their orbits to dim a star over the last hundred years.

Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University combed through Harvard's archive of astronomical plates from the last century, finding there's been a steady dimming of Tabby's Star. Faced with a deepening mystery Michael Hippke, self-proclaimed (and cringey) "gentleman scientist", and Vanderbilt University doctoral student Michael Lund earnestly tried, and failed, to disprove Schaefer's discovery. There's nothing wrong with the Kepler observatory that first imaged KIC 8462852, nor Harvard's plates, and Schafer's methodology is watertight.

Spicing up the story is Penn State's Jason Wright, suggesting the dimming's cause might be an alien megastructure like a Dyson swarm or sphere. The invocation of aliens by straightlaced scientists without outright dismissal by their peers means more money from ad impressions, and angry flame wars in comment sections around the web. Also aliens?

To puzzle out this anomaly, the only sensible course of action is to continue surveying the sky, and reviewing past data for other stars with similar characteristics. Should one be found, astronomers can study it, compare it, then begin narrowing down the suspects behind the strangeness 1,480 light years away from us.

This search might take longer than hoped. Daryll LaCourse, profligate Kepler data miner, announced to the internet how Tabby's Star is unique.

The Kepler spacecraft is now observing a series of new ecliptic fields (K2) and has accumulated observations of ~165,000 additional targets. Continued visual inspection of these public data has failed to recover an analog to KIC 8462852. Lack of such a detection suggests that the aperiodic dimming indeed represents a rare astrophysical phenomenon, regardless of the true root cause mechanism involved.

For now Homo sapiens should content themselves with Tabetha Boyajian's successful Kickstarter to continuously monitor her star, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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