Forget about Aliens: Crowdfunding Campaign Sheds New Light on Mysterious Star

An astronomer is crediting a crowdfunding campaign for helping her move one step closer to solving the strange light emanating from a mysterious star that is larger than the sun and situated more than 1,000 light-years from earth.

About 1,700 “citizen scientists” were so compelled by the mystery that they donated $107,421 to the crowdfunding campaign, which Louisiana State University physics professor Tabetha Boyajian started in 2016 to pay for dedicated time on ground-based telescopes that were employed to observe KIC 8462852, or “Tabby’s Star.”

Thanks to the crowdfunding campaign, Boyajian – the star’s namesake — and a team of researchers debunked a theory that the weird blinking was really an alien megastructure orbiting the earth. Data collected, which Boyajian had published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggests instead that dust is the likely reason “Tabby’s Star” appears to dim for days or weeks before brightening again.

Without quick access to a government observatory or a large source of funding for private observations, Boyajian and her team turned to amateur astronomers and crowdfunding for as little as a few dollars at a time. Boyajian said she is humbled by the outpouring of donors to the crowdfunding campaign.

Tabby’s Star proves that crowdfunding can be a tool for not only solving problems in space but addressing dwindling funding resources for astronomy projects, said Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of the free crowdfunding website

Boyajian and colleagues collected the data in partnership with the Las Cumbres Observatory, a network of robotic telescopes around the globe. The observatory monitored the star 24/7, providing all the information needed to catch the star’s fleeting dips and trigger follow-up observations.

Supporters who donated to the crowdfunding campaign voted to name the dipping episodes Elise, Celeste, Scara Brae and Angkor. The last two are named after ancient lost cities.

Tabby’s Star is about 50 percent larger and 1,000 degrees hotter than the sun. While the latest research has narrowed explanations for the blinking and ruled out alien activity, researchers still haven’t figured out where the dust is coming from.

About the Author: Staff Writer for


Crowdfunding Delivers Help for Minnesota ‘Sandwich Man’ Who Helps Homeless

The retired Minnesota teacher who spends 365 nights each year rolling a grocery cart up and down the streets of Minneapolis handing out sandwiches to the homeless is now getting a little help himself.

Allan Law – affectionately known as the “sandwich man” around the Twin Cities – doesn’t know much about crowdfunding platforms, but he is pleasantly surprised to learn that a crowdfunding campaign has already raised more than $50,000 to help him deliver the sandwiches, coats, blankets and bus tokens he hands out to the homeless each day.

Teri Bennett heard about the sandwiches a few years back and began volunteering with Law. She soon realized the “sandwich man” needed help as well, and decided to start a crowdfunding campaign in the hope that enough money could be raised to purchase warehouse space and make her hero’s calling more convenient.

Right now, Law’s apartment, which has 20 freezers to store the hundreds of thousands of sandwiches made by church, business and civic groups that he hands out each year, doubles as ground zero for his nonprofit, Minneapolis Recreation Development Inc.

Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of the free crowdfunding platform, said crowdfunding campaigns make giving to nonprofits or volunteers who assist the homeless secure and transparent.

“If you are wondering how to help the homeless, crowdfunding can help,” she said. “Crowdfunding has become a valued resource for nonprofits because it is quick, easy and effective.”

On any given night, there are more than half a million Americans who are homeless. Many are veterans or victims of domestic violence, and many are suffering from chronic mental illnesses.

Hikind said crowdfunding campaigns can be built around community service initiatives directed to combat homelessness much like the nonprofit Law began years ago when Allan was still teaching in Minnesota. When he first started, Law distributed unsold bakery goods and sandwiches from stores. Those efforts grew to encompass donations from schools, companies, churches and community groups. He handed out 800,000 sandwiches last year, along with warm clothing, blankets and other items

Now 16 years into retirement, Law delivers sandwiches from the back of his van between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m., targeting times when people on the street are most vulnerable. He sleeps only a few hours behind the steering wheel each night. His two vacation days are Thanksgiving and Christmas. He’s twice been diagnosed with cancer, and he continued distributing sandwiches at night while undergoing radiation during the day.

Aside from his apartment, Law rents storage at several facilities. He said community groups are constantly feeding him donations including a recent delivery of 140 coats from Delano and hundreds more on the way from Hudson and River Falls. Southwest High School students recently made 2,000 sandwiches, he said, and Brave New Workshop holds a monthly sandwich-making event.

If the crowdfunding campaign raises enough money, Law hopes to get a larger van so that he can help more people.

About the Author: Staff Writer for