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.

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