Tabby’s star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, has provoked so much excitement over the past year, with speculation that it hosts a highly advanced civilisation capable of building orbiting megastructures, that UC Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen project is devoting hours of time on the Green Bank radio telescope to see if it can detect any extraterrestrial signals.
More than 100 confirmed exoplanets — the biggest haul of worlds uncovered by the stabilised and repurposed Kepler space telescope in its K2 mission — is reported by an international science team led by the University of Arizona. Excitingly, the new population includes many worlds that could be rocky and cool enough to potentially support life.
On Monday, 9 May there will be a rare transit of Mercury, when the innermost planet in our solar system will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun. The last time this happened was in 2006. With a properly filtered telescope and fine weather, the entire 7½-hour event can be seen from the British Isles.
NASA’s Kepler planet-hunter spacecraft remains stable as the process of returning it to science continues. The cause of the anomaly, first reported on 8 April, remains under investigation. Charlie Sobeck, Kepler and K2 mission manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, explains the steps taken by mission operations engineers to resume the K2 mission.
New information about the way mature stars spin indicates that one recently developed method for determining a star’s age needs to be recalibrated for stars that are older than our Sun, as spin rate is one of the few windows into stellar ages. This has implications for our own solar system, as our own Sun might be on the cusp of a transition in its magnetic field.
A star called KIC 8462852 has been in the news recently for unexplained and bizarre behaviour. NASA’s Kepler mission had monitored the star for four years, observing two unusual incidents, in 2011 and 2013, when the star’s light dimmed in dramatic, never-before-seen ways. Something had passed in front of the star and blocked its light, but what?