Tabby’s Megastructure Mystery

February 20, 2017

So I’ve flown my spaceship all the way out to KIC 8462852, better known as Tabby’s Star, and what do you know? The aliens really are building a megastructure out here.


This whole situation is pretty weird, I know; but the weirdest thing is that when I check my ship’s sensors, I can’t detect any thermal emissions from the megastructure or any of the spaceships involved in constructing it.

The lack of thermal emissions (or the lack of an “infrared excess,” as the experts call it) is one of the main reasons why Tabetha Boyajian and other legitimate scientists don’t really buy the alien megastructure hypothosis.

Think about it. If Tabby’s Star hosts an active work zone, with spaceships flying around and construction workers welding space girders and stuff, you’d expect all that activity to produce some heat. Even without the construction activity, the megastructure itself should be pretty warm due to the star it encircles.

And all that heat should be detectable in the form of infrared radiation. But whether you observe Tabby’s Star with a telescope back on Earth or the sensor grid of my imaginary spaceship, the total amount of infrared light is exactly what you’d expect from an F-type main-sequence star. No more, no less.

Since I’m here, I decided to ask one of the alien construction workers about this. Here’s what he told me: “Yeah, we been masking our thermal emissions. What of it? We don’ts wants nobody snooping in our business. Now scram, smelly human!”

Not exactly the answer I was expecting, but I guess I’ll take what I can get.

P.S.: If you want to learn more about Tabby’s Star and how citizen science helped uncover its mysterious behavior, I strongly recommend this SciShow interview with Tabetha Boyajian. That’s where I first learned about the “infrared excess” issue that I discussed in today’s post.

Sciency Words: Tabby’s Star

February 17, 2017

Sciency Words PHYS copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


Something’s wrong with a star named KIC 8462852. It flickers. It dims by as much as 22% for no apparent reason. This is an F-type main-sequence star, meaning it’s only a little bit larger than our Sun. F-type stars shouldn’t behave like this.

KIC 8462852 is sometimes called the WTF Star, because of the paper that first described its abnormal fluctuations in brightness. That paper was subtitled “Where’s the Flux?”

The star is also known (and perhaps better known) as Tabby’s Star, in honor of Tabetha Boyajian, the lead author on that paper.

There are several possible explanations for what might be happening to Tabby’s Star, but it’s the least likely explanation that’s gotten the most hype. Could it be aliens? SETI decided to check it out. They didn’t find anything. But still… it could be aliens.

Massive alien starships might be transiting the star, blocking some of its light. Or perhaps there are enormous space stations orbiting the star. Or maybe we’ve caught an advanced alien civilization in the act of building some kind of megastructure (like a Dyson sphere) completely encircling their sun.

Most professional astronomers do not think it’s aliens. Tabetha Boyajian herself doesn’t seem to take the idea seriously and often jokes about the crazy emails she gets from people who do. And to be perfectly clear, I do not take this alien megastructure hypothesis seriously either.

But just to be sure, I’ve decided to hop into my imaginary spaceship and fly out to KIC 8462852, just so I can see for myself what’s really going on. Wish me luck! I’ll let you know what I find next week.


I’m Back!

February 15, 2017

Today is Galileo Galilei’s 453rd birthday. With that in mind, here’s a throwback to the world of 453 years ago.


Today is also my official return to regular blogging! You might notice that I’ve made a few small changes around here. First off, no more ads! Because nobody likes ads, and it actually didn’t cost me much to get rid of them.

Also, the web address has changed from to simply It’s a small thing, I know, but I’m pretty excited about it. Makes me feel more legit somehow.

I’ve made a few other small, cosmetic changes, and I might continue fiddling with a few details over the next few months.

As for the Tomorrow News Network website… umm… I’ll get back to you about that.

Meanwhile, I have some fun stuff lined up for this website, starting with a visit to KIC 8462852. What the heck is that? Tune in for Friday’s edition of Sciency Words to find out! Or you could just google it. The Internet’s been buzzing about KIC 8462852 for a while now.

Planet Pailly: The Movie Trailer

February 9, 2017

Please read this in your best movie trailer voice:

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In a world where science fiction writers often forget about science, one man wanted to do his research.


And one muse told him he should totally do that.


Coming February 15, 2017, these two will set out in their imaginary spaceship, continuing their voyages through the Solar System and beyond, and learning as much about science as their tiny brains can hold.


Coming soon to an internet near you. This blog not yet rated by the MPAA.

IWSG: Born to Write

February 1, 2017

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

I’m still sort of busy with all my top secret stuff, so I’m going to let my muse write today’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post for me. She has something she’d like to say, and maybe it’s something your muse would like to hear.

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I was at the top of my class in muse training school. I knew everything about the secret magic of inspiration. I thought I was so ready. Then I was assigned to my writer, and he was a bit younger than I’d been expecting.


Turned out I’d have to wait… and wait… and wait, until my writer finally grew up. I also had to wait while my writer went through some bad experiences, and made some poor life choices, before he finally realized what writer’s are supposed to do with their lives (hint: it involves writing!).

At the moment, my writer is going through something of a transition. He’s taking some risks and trying some new stuff, and not everything is going according to plan. He’s starting to worry. He’s getting cold feet. He’s starting to worry that maybe he wasn’t meant to be a writer at all.

Of course he doesn’t remember how he became a writer. He doesn’t remember when it really began. He was too young at the time. Which brings me to the little piece of advice that I want to share with all the other muses who might be reading this: writers sometimes need to be reminded that they were born to write.

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and see a list of participating blogs.


January 9, 2017

Regular readers may have noticed I missed Friday’s Sciency Words post. You may have also noticed I skipped Molecular Monday on the first Monday of the month. And I can tell you right now that I’ll be skipping a lot more of my regularly scheduled blogging days in the near future.

I did post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group last Wednesday, and in my IWSG post I mentioned that I have a top-secret master plan for 2017. And that secret plan requires me to [TEXT REDACTED] and also [TEXT REDACTED].

Okay, it’s a secret plan. I guess I can’t say much, but you can probably guess that I’m doing something with the Tomorrow News Network series. You may also see some changes coming to Planet Pailly, such as [TEXT REDACTED].

Dang it, text redactor! They’re going to see those changes soon anyway. Can’t I tell them anything? [TELL THEM YOU’LL BE BACK ON FEBRUARY 15TH.]

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume on February 15, 2017, for both Planet Pailly and Tomorrow News Network. Until then, I’ll do my best to keep you appraised of my progress, without violating the terms of my top-secret master plan.

P.S.: By some weird cosmic coincidence, February 15 happens to be Galileo Galilei’s birthday. Seems like an appropriate day for a new space adventure to begin.

IWSG: I Jinxed Myself

January 4, 2017

I’m not a superstitious person, so I don’t believe in jinxes. My muse, on the other hand, feels differently.


In last month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, I shared some statistics about my weekly word counts. I didn’t mean to brag, but the numbers were rather high for the past few years, and I was excited because they’d jumped even higher in 2016.

And then my writing productivity plummeted for the rest of December. Yes, part of that can be blamed on the holiday season. And part of it was because I caught a nasty cold. But there’s no denying that I got overconfident after reviewing my own writing records, and that led me astray. Does that mean I jinxed myself? I guess, in a way, it does.

Now I have a lot of catching up to do. January is going to be a busy month. My whole top-secret master plan for 2017 is in jeopardy. I’d tell you more about what I need to do, but… it’s a top-secret plan.

So long as I can get my weekly word counts back up to their pre-December levels, I think I’ll be okay. In fact, I’m confident that I can beat those pre-December numbers and really get my master plan back on track!

Hopefully I didn’t just jinx myself again. Wish me luck!

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and see a list of participating blogs.