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Ever since KIC 84628532 was spotted in the Kepler Space Telescope’s dataset, astronomers have puzzled over what the heck could be responsible for the star’s logic-defying light curve. Over four years of observational data, KIC 8462852 flickered erratically, its light output sometimes dropping by as much as 20%. That’s highly unusual stellar behavior, and it can’t be explained by a transiting planet.
But according to a study just released arXiv, the comet hypothesis is now falling flat, too, and the mystery of KIC 8462852 has deepened considerably. While Kepler only has a few years of data on the star, astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University decided to look at photographic plates of the sky dating back to the late 19th century. To his amazement, he learned that over the last hundred years, KIC 8462852's light output has steadily faded by about 19%, something that’s “completely unprecedented for any F-type main sequence star.”