Sometimes, science is all about not having the foggiest idea about how something happens, but trying really hard to find out the truth. It also means not being afraid to go in potentially weird directions.
Jason Wright, Penn State associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics, is doing just that. He’s one of the astronomers trying to find out if — set the synthesizer on spooky and cue the weird music — a giant alien structure is causing the weird dimming of a star called KIC 8462852, better known as Tabby’s Star.
Located about 1,500 light-years from Earth, Tabby’s Star has undergone rapid and erratic dimming that typical cosmic phenomena — a rotating planet, for example, or comets — may not explain. While not proven or even likely, Wright suggests that an alien megastructure cannot be taken off the table as a possibility.
In this chat at the SETI Institute, (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute), Wright offers more information about Tabby’s Star and what it might — and might not — mean for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Members of the news media interested in talking to Wright should contact Barbara Kennedy at 814-863-4682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best thing about a day in my life on the lookout for gravitational waves is that I never know when it will begin.
Like many of my colleagues working for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), the morning of Monday, September 14, 2015 caught me completely off-guard. For years, we’ve been joking that Advanced LIGO would be so sensitive we might just detect one the very first day it turns on. In retrospect, it’s remarkable how close to reality that joke turned out to be.
LIGO is listening for gravitational waves – one of the last unproven predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In his view of the universe, space and time are fluid things that depend on an observer’s frame of reference. For example, time passes just a (very) little bit more slowly for those who work on the ground floor of an office building as compared to their peers on the 101st floor. Why? They’re deeper in Earth’s gravitational pull.