The following is a Q&A with Teza employee, Alexey Goldin. Alexey’s work on Tabby’s Star has been creating some impressive buzz, so we asked him to discuss his research and how he got interested in the subject. Make sure to check back in for the second installment!
What is Tabby’s Star?
Tabby’s Star was accidentally detected by an exoplanet-seeking satellite. The star changes brightness a lot (at times dimming by much as 20 percent). There is no known physical explanation for why this star, which is so similar to our Sun, can change its brightness so drastically. The standard hypothesis is that something is occluding its light. The subject became popular when someone hypothesized that super-powerful aliens were building structures to collect star energy (similar to an unfinished Dyson sphere)!
I looked at the data carefully alongside Valeri Makarov of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., and we came to the conclusion that there is another weak, but probably unrelated, object close to this star’s line of sight. It is just accidentally there. We believe there is a lot of space junk (e.g., comets, some protoplanetary material) associated with that other, weak and almost invisible object that is occluding Tabby’s Star. It’s not as fun as aliens, but it is more likely.
Can you tell us about how you conducted the research?\
Valeri is my former colleague. We worked together on SIM mission. Before that I did not have experience with astrometry and optical astronomy –this was entirely new field for me. As a result, Valeri and I worked closely together — he did most of the astronomy work while I focused on data analysis — to produce a series of articles beginning around 2007.
Why are you interested in Tabby’s Star?
This kind of work is interesting and exciting to me generally, even when we work with less famous objects. But I also find that this type of work is more pertinent to my role at Teza than you may think. To find a relevant trading signal we have to go through a large amount of data to find a weak signal. Astronomers (especially ones looking for exoplanets) often have to do the same.