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Bizarre Dimming Star Stumps Scientists

Bizarre Dimming Star Stumps Scientists

By Tim Binnall

Scientists studying data from the Kepler telescope have spotted a truly strange star that exhibits weird characteristics which have left them scratching their heads. According to a newly-published paper on the star, 'HD 139139,' now known colloquially as the 'Random Transiter,' proved to be particularly intriguing to researchers because its brightness dipped 28 times over the course of 87 days for no discernible reason. The fluctuations were equally bewildering because they seemed to follow no apparent pattern and "their arrival times could just as well have been produced by a random number generator."

In a testament to how confounding the find has proven to be, the paper detailing the discovery of the Random Transiter offered nine possible explanations for what is causing the fluctuations in the star's brightness. Among the suggestions were a bevy of planets orbiting the star, a "debris disk of dust-emitting asteroids," and short-lived star spots. Ultimately, however, none of these theories have proven to be a perfect fit just yet and the authors of the paper explained that their highlighting of the oddity was done "largely to bring this enigmatic object to the attention of the larger astrophysics community" in the hopes that additional observations could be made or new theories could be offered for the star's behavior.

To that end, one explanation noticeably not explored by the researchers is the always-controversial ET hypothesis. That omission may be due to the firestorm which has surrounded another mysteriously dimming star that continues to spawn headlines in large part because some scientists had suggested that it could be an 'alien megastructure.' Asked why they did not consider the alien scenario, the co-author of the paper explained to Scientific American that "I think we have to consider all options before we go there." Whether ET enthusiasts will exercise similar restraint seems unlikely, since the strange star certainly lends itself to speculation that perhaps its odd behavior could be the long-awaited sign that there's someone out there waiting to be found.

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