Episode 47- The Most Mysterious Star in the Universe with Tabetha Boyajian

Episode #47
Original Air Date: 12.05.2017

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Tabetha Boyajian

Astronomer Tabetha Boyajian joins the Manage This crew to discuss the project she is leading… and it’s a challenging one.

NASA and astronomers around the world are perplexed by the most mysterious star in the universe. Something massive and unpredictable is blocking the light coming from a distant star known as KIC 8462852. Dr. Boyajian is coordinating efforts to analyze and understand this star, which is also known as Tabby’s Star or Boyajian’s Star named after our guest. Dr. Boyajian has delivered a TED Talk on the issue and various theories. Listen in as she describes the challenges of managing a project whose subject is 1,280 light-years from Earth!

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"The way it was actually discovered was through a citizen science group called Planet Hunters.  And this is part of the “universe collaboration” where you set up some projects with real data from a NASA mission or any assortment of datasets, and you call on the public’s help to classify your data.  And this just uses the human brain’s ability for pattern recognition.  And so this is how the star was discovered because it wasn’t something that we were looking for with computers.  But it was this giant signal that just popped out and is very obvious if you have a person looking at it."

- Tabetha Boyajian

"You’re developing a project.  What kind of datasets will help you answer the question?  What are the analysis techniques?  All of these steps kind of reflect what a project manager, say in a business setting, would actually do."

- Tabetha Boyajian

"Project management is definitely not easy, especially when you’re kind of thrown into it, probably did some things very untraditionally.  But it is doable if you surround yourself with great people, and you kind of let go of responsibilities that you’re normally used to doing, but just to try and save your peace of mind, for that matter."

- Tabetha Boyajian

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NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our time to meet and talk about what’s important to you in the fast-paced, sometimes puzzling, but always compelling world of project management.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are two of the most compelling individuals I know, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, it looks like we have another first here on Manage This.  This is our first guest to actually have a star named after her.

ANDY CROWE:  This is going to be fascinating to dig into today, Nick.  And I’m looking forward to it, not just from the project standpoint, but also just out of pure curiosity about this.  This is really going to be interesting.

NICK WALKER:  Well, Tabetha Boyajian is joining us via Skype from Louisiana State University, where she’s a professor and astronomer.  She has a degree from the College of Charleston and a Ph.D. from Georgia State University.  She studied the sizes of nearby stars similar to the sun using Georgia State’s CHARA array, located at Mount Wilson Observatory in Southern California.  She was awarded a Hubble Fellowship designed to encourage promising scientists in their independent research.  She was the lead author of the 2015 paper titled “Where’s the Flux?” which investigated the highly unusual light curve of the star known as Tabby’s Star, named in her honor.  Tabetha, it’s a privilege to have you with us here on Manage This.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Oh, thank you.  It’s nice to talk to y’all.

NICK WALKER:  Now, before we get into the details of your project, I should say that I recognize the official name of Tabby’s Star is KIC 8462852.  But do you mind if we just continue to call it Tabby’s Star?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yeah, that’s certainly fine.  It doesn’t really roll off your tongue when you say KIC 8462852; right?

NICK WALKER:  It really doesn’t.  But so cool to have a star named after you.  How did that come about?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  It was probably by accident, I suppose.  The star got, well, the story of it went a little viral.  And a colleague of mine was talking to a reporter; and, instead of saying “KIC 8462852,” he said “Tabby’s Star.”  And that reporter put it into print, and then it just kind of caught on after that.

NICK WALKER:  Well, if stars can be celebrities, this one surely qualifies because it’s been sort of the center of this mystery in science circles.  It seems that every so often the past few months the star has become dimmer, a lot dimmer, sometimes for days at a time.  Can you give us some background on the star and the current project surrounding it?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yeah, well, it all started with the NASA Kepler Mission.  So this was a mission launched in 2009 to find planets around stars.  And what it did is it stared at a single piece of sky for four years straight, taking brightness measurements of over 100,000 stars in that one tiny field.  And it was looking for the chance alignment of a planet to be crossing in front of a star.  So we would see it periodically dim the starlight that we were observing.  And it did that, and it did that very, very well.  And that’s how this star was identified, because this star was one of the 100,000 or so that it looked at.  And instead of seeing a periodic small drop in the star’s brightness with time, this star had very irregular drops in its brightness.

NICK WALKER:  So I know that there have been a lot of theories that have come out about why this is happening, some of them a little maybe farfetched.

ANDY CROWE:  Oh, come on, Nick.  Farfetched?  Alien megastructures?  Dyson Spheres?  That’s not farfetched.

NICK WALKER:  Okay, you said it, you said it.

ANDY CROWE:  Or dust clouds, or comets, yeah.  There’s a lot of possibility here.

BILL YATES:  A dimmer switch.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s a big universe, and that’s the point.

BILL YATES:  It is, it is.

NICK WALKER:  So where do we stand with trying to figure out why it’s actually dimming?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, for a few years we tried to learn everything about the star itself to see if we could find any clues to what could cause this dimming that we saw in Kepler data.  And we couldn’t really settle on any explanation that was consistent with the data that we had in hand.  So it took a little more thinking outside of the box.  And that’s where this whole idea of an alien megastructure came into mind where you would have some artificially built structure that was perhaps very asymmetric and swirling around [Skype glitch] big solar panels of a sort, and this is what was diminishing the star’s light.

But still, even now, with the boatloads of new data that we have coming in – as you mentioned, the star started acting up a few months ago in the summer.  It’s been very, very active again.  We’re still kind of scrambling to find out – what do you call it?  We’re still scrambling to find a good explanation to what is happening and what is going on.

ANDY CROWE:  So the mystery continues.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yes.  I think that’s so.  There is a bunch of people working on it; and we’ve got a lot of data now, thankfully, from observers all over the world that are contributing to this really amazing project.  And, yeah, we’re starting to get our hands dirty with it.  But it’s still going to take a while, I think.

ANDY CROWE:  And Tabetha, real quickly, how far away is this star?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  This star is about 1,400 light years away.  So the light that’s coming to us right now that our telescopes are receiving left that star system 1,400 years ago.

BILL YATES:  Tabetha, how, if you have a diverse – it sounds to me like your project team is a number of scientists that are from all points on the globe.  How are you guys forming a project team, and are you the leader of this team?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, I mean, it kind of happened very suddenly that – I want to give you a little bit of background.  The data that we had from the star with the Kepler Space Telescope didn’t have any indication of what we were observing was periodic.  So we couldn’t predict when it would, like, go crazy again.  And so this was kind of a very long-term, we didn’t even know if it was going to go crazy again kind of project, right, to just sit and kind of watch this star.

And when it finally did do something, there was a bit of scrambling, right, because we had a team of people that were interested in following this up, but we didn’t know when it would actually happen.  And so putting everything together all at once wasn’t – I wouldn’t say very well thought out.  But it was definitely put together in a very organic way, where it just kind of, okay, this is working best because this is what we have right now.

ANDY CROWE:  Just a silly question for you.  When you say “go crazy,” does that mean the star is dimming?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yeah, that’s right.  So basically what stars, you know, a normal star would just shine regularly, and you would see a constant light output.  And when I say “go crazy,” this star actually dims in its brightness.  And these dimming events last from days to weeks.  And so this is what I mean by “going crazy.”

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  And it’s not – there’s no predictability to it.  So it just dims for no apparent reason, and then it’s back to brightness.  Fascinating.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yeah, that’s right, yeah.  It’s very irregular in when it decides to do what it does.  And the shapes and the duration of these events are also unpredictable.  Like we don’t know pretty much anything in advance of what’s going on.

ANDY CROWE:  So who was the first person to notice this phenomenon or document it or write about it or bring it up?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  In recent, like in recent days, or…


TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Ever.  So this is kind of a neat story, how this star was discovered, because its signal is very huge, like it sticks out like a sore thumb.  And the Kepler dataset, four years, over 100,000 stars, a data point every 30 minutes, is a lot of data you’re sifting through.  So you have computer algorithms that are sorting through it and finding what you want to find; right?  So its main mission was to find planets.  And then there’s other things that you can do with the datasets.  But all these things that we had our computer algorithms sorting through were what – computers do exactly what you tell them to do.  And so you tell them to find a periodic signal, they’ll find a periodic signal.  And this was not a periodic signal.

And so the way it was actually discovered was through a citizen science group called Planet Hunters.  And this is part of the “universe collaboration” where you set up some projects with real data from a NASA mission or any assortment of datasets, and you call on the public’s help to classify your data.  And this just uses the human brain’s ability for pattern recognition.  And so this is how the star was discovered because it wasn’t something that we were looking for with computers.  But it was this giant signal that just popped out and is very obvious if you have a person looking at it.

NICK WALKER:  Tabby, where are you in the course of this project?  I mean, have you been able to eliminate some possible causes for the dimming?  Or are you still, basically, is it just completely open-ended?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, we’re hacking away at this giant puzzle right now.  When it was first discovered, we continued to collect data on it.  Nothing really pointed us to what was an obvious solution to what was going on, and so we went on to collecting more data.  And further analyses that have come out actually don’t help the situation.  I think in retrospect they will help the situation, but there are observations that we’ve never seen stars do these kind of things before.  And so this kind of throws a wrench in any bad ideas you already had going for you; right?  It kind of knocks them down a bit more.  And so starting from the drawing board of, okay, well, now we have this assortment of very strange things that we don’t know stars do at all.  This one star is doing all of them.

BILL YATES:  Tabetha, I have a very practical question.  Who’s paying for this?  I think about you have citizens, the public, who are helping participate in crunching all the data.  You have great data from NASA, well, it’s great data, but it’s perplexing data.  So now you have scientists from all over the world who probably have day jobs, but they’re also trying to contribute to this project.  So who’s paying for it?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Oh, that’s – it’s a bit complicated because [Skype glitch] any parts and contributions from people all around the world.  I can start with the monitoring.  So we kind of were left in this position where, I don’t know, with the data that we had we couldn’t really learn any more, and so we needed to continue watching the star to figure out when it would do something again, and what these events would look like, and how long they would last, and how deep they were, and all these questions that we still had.  Was there eventually any period that would come out of it to try and make sense out of this?

And so to do this we started to monitor the star with a network of telescopes.  So these are all robotic telescopes.  They’re all connected in a big network.  And you can have continuous watching on the star’s brightness at all times.  And this project was funded through a crowdfunding effort.  So we actually launched a Kickstarter project to collect data on the star and see what would happen next.  And the project was, well, it was a nail-biter.  It came through at the last day or so.  But we ended up raising over $100,000 to collect data, to watch this star and figure out what was going on.

NICK WALKER:  There are a lot of stargazers out there.


TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yeah.  Well, that’s another thing.  So it’s like people could contribute in any way they could because they really wanted to help out in this big mystery that seems to captivate everybody’s imagination; right?  So you have amateur observers from around the world who do have the facilities and the telescopes, the equipment to contribute data.  And this is all done through an online forum with the American Association of Variable Star Observers.  They organize all of these amateur observers to submit observations of this star.  And then we have the crowdfunding project for those who didn’t have the facilities, but they still wanted to contribute in another way.  So this is another source of how you could get the data.

And then there are astronomers from all around the world.  This is kind of what we do.  We all love mysteries.  There’s tons of mysteries in space.  And so it’s not just this one.  But if we have the opportunity to take a high-resolution spectrum of a star when it’s in its active state, and you’re at the telescope, yeah, you’re going to point and shoot at the source.  And hopefully this will, all these will come together at some point and help us figure out, learn more about the system.

ANDY CROWE:  And you’re having to synthesize all of this data from all of these different sources; correct?  Do the data come in to you in sort of a common format?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Not really.  Like I said, this was kind of like, when it started being active again, it was not a surprise; but we didn’t plan an event for when this would happen.  And so, I mean, there is a variety of datasets from just photometric, like taking images, to spectroscopy, where you take in the star’s light, and you put it through a prism, per se, and it spreads out with color, and some other various observations.

And so we just asked the observers to, you know, we had a data repository, just asked the observers to drop the data there in whatever format they could; and, if they wanted to continue working on it, that was, you know, we’d definitely welcome that.  Or if it was just there for somebody else to go and do a project with, then they can state that, as well.

But so this allowed this kind of very widespread call for observations to kind of be organized in this way.  And then, even if you’re an astronomer, and you did want to work on it, you could jump on any one of these datasets and help reduce it or analyze it or interpret it, any of these angles.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, I’ve got a Meade ETX telescope with a Celestron base, so I’m sure I can get you lots of useful data.  I wish.  I probably can’t even see this star, can I.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  With a small telescope you could.  So this is a – it’s about a 12th-magnitude star.  And so with like a 10‑inch telescope or so, you could get just fine data with it.

ANDY CROWE:  How about that.  Let me ask you a question, Tabetha.  What would success look like for you?  That’s one of the things you think of in project management is you sort of try and define success.  But there are so many questions here, and this is really kind of open-ended in terms of that.  What would it look like to you?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  I think we’re at that point.  I mean, we won the lottery pretty much with this star actually doing something because it could have just never done anything after what we saw with the Kepler Space Telescope.  And so we stuck with it for almost two years of the star doing absolutely nothing to, wow, it’s doing something.  And it didn’t just do something once.  It started doing something again a month later, and then a month later, and then a month later.

And so I think we really – that right there, I mean, that’s really luck that it actually did something.  But I’d call that a success; right?  I mean, we have done everything that we said that we wanted to do.  We have all this data.  This definitely calls – motivates us to continue observing the star.  It’s not going to just – motivation isn’t going to drop in a few years.  I think that now that it does act, we know that it does act up again, we can continue using this momentum for the next decade or so.

ANDY CROWE:  And I’m sorry, this has nothing to do with project management, but my curiosity is just causing my brain to rev up here.  Do you have enough data that you’re getting from this?  And do you have accurate enough data to see if there’s something obscuring the light from the star?  I mean, is there something passing in between the Earth and the star to cause this?  Or is that even a sort of a ridiculous question?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  That’s not ridiculous at all.  We’re at the point where, yes, we have that data.  Something is coming in front of the star and blocking the star’s light.  What that something is, we’re not really quite sure what it is.  Where that something is, we’re not really quite sure what that is, either, because you have a lot of different observations that at first glance this would indicate that you have some sort of dusty debris disk around the star.  So maybe the star just formed, or maybe there are some planet collisions or an asteroid belt or something like that.  But all of these scenarios would have a, you know, if you have any kind of dust around a star, you would have what we call an “infrared excess.”  So this dust would heat up by the star’s light and glow in the infrared.  And we don’t see this in our observations.  That’s kind of like the first kneejerk, like, oh, well, it’s dust.  And it looks like dust, but getting dust to be invisible in the infrared is something that I still haven’t quite figured out what to do yet.

So we know something’s blocking the light.  We don’t know where it is.  We don’t, yeah, we don’t know where there’s or whether there’s, like if it’s comets or asteroids or maybe some dust cloud in between, like dead in between us and the star, so maybe it’s not even orbiting the star.  But still, having that constraint to where you’re not seeing any glow in the infrared is – it kills a lot of these ideas pretty quickly.


BILL YATES:  Tabetha, one of the other questions that we love to ask people like you, how did you identify your key stakeholders, and how do you figure out how much information to provide to these different groups to give them enough data to move forward, but not too much?  How did you go about that?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  I will need you to define “stakeholders” for me.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, perfect.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Being a scientist, we don’t really use that word.

BILL YATES:  Yes, yes, yes.  So we see a stakeholder as anyone who holds a stake or an interest in our project.  So those individuals that are interested in a project or could influence the project.

ANDY CROWE:  Or in the outcome.


ANDY CROWE:  So you’ve got a lot of stakeholders out there in people who contributed to this, but you also have people that you’re accountable to.  You have other scientists.  All of those people would be stakeholders here.  How do you know who the important people on this project are, and how do you communicate with them?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, I definitely – I’ve come to – hmm.  This is a tricky question.  I guess there are different levels; right?  So we have the stakeholders, say the backers for the Kickstarter project; right?  They get the privileges that are associated with the project itself; right?  So each of these events that we observe, they get to name them; right?  They get to nominate names and name them, kind of like we name asteroids; right?  So it kind of gives it a personal feel to the whole project and what’s going on.  And they get special updates through email newsletters and that sort of thing.

But there’s also a very – there’s a movement to make all these processes in science very public.  We don’t want to seem like we’re hiding anything.  And so we also update a blog web page sort of thing with the data updates so the whole public can see that.  We put it out on Twitter and that sort of thing.  And so that’s another something that we do.  But trying to communicate within a big group, we’ve also found that email sucks.  My email inbox is a disaster.  So we just – we’ve fallen to using the application Slack, which is like a glorified instant messenger system.

ANDY CROWE:  Yes.  We use it here, yeah.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  You use it there?  Yeah, I think it’s been really wonderful for a project like this, so we can just share updates and kind of organize things by each channel and things like that.  And everything becomes very transparent in that way, and news that’s going on and things like that.  So, yeah, there are several different routes that I guess that we use for communication with stakeholders in this business.

NICK WALKER:  Tabetha, you mentioned, of course, that you’re a scientist.  But you’re also a project manager.  How does a scientist fit into that?  Is that a role you’re comfortable in?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Yes and no, I would say.  I haven’t had any project management, like formal project management training, other than my training as being a scientist and leading projects in that respect.  And reading through your web page and the testimonials I’m like, wow, I would actually probably benefit from just a little bit of training in that respect.

But we do have a bit of, since our graduate work, just leading other projects.  Like you write proposals.  You identify collaborators who could help you with the kind of science question that you want to answer.  You’re developing a project.  What kind of datasets will help you answer the question?  What are the analysis techniques?  All of these steps kind of reflect what a project manager, say in a business setting, would actually do.  But this is, I guess, on a more broader scale.  I’ve identified that, yeah, maybe I’m not doing things as efficiently as I would have with formal training, trying to collect data from hundreds of observers and that sort of thing.  And so that’s definitely something that I would have benefited from formal training in that respect.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Tabetha, it’s funny because project management and science do have one big commonality, and you touched on it in your comment a moment ago, is that they both follow a process.  And there’s a method to the madness.  There’s a method to gathering the information and collating it and assessing it and so forth.  So I think your training as a scientist probably has served you very well in this, it sounds like.

Let me ask you one question.  You’ve gone through this big project.  It’s gotten a lot of visibility.  It’s been fascinating.  I’ve followed it out of just utter fascination as I’ve been reading all of this.  And I kind of assumed you were going to deflate the balloon and say, oh, no, we figured out it’s a dust cloud.  But now you’ve got me back to redlining on curiosity here.  What do you think has been your biggest challenge in sort of managing this whole effort so far, just you personally?  What’s been the one thing that’s kind of kept you up?  Has it been working with team members, or working with different stakeholders around the world, or the pressure of it, or what?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, yeah, everything that you mentioned.  And I think, I mean, it was a big change for me in the sense of scale.  Like you know, we kind of get project manager training throughout our careers.  But these are like smallish projects with maybe 20 people max.  But it’s normally just a handful of people.  And the scale of this one is very large.

And so I think there’s a transition from that and just having to kind of let go of some things and calling on help to do things that you normally would have done; right?  But lots of people are volunteering to help in many different ways.  That was a challenge, just trying to give up that, “Oh, but I normally do that.”  But, okay, that job will be much better done if it’s managed by a person instead of me doing, like, 50,000 things.  So that’s, you know, just kind of letting go of some things like that has been a challenge.

And just managing my schedule is also – I don’t think I’ve quite handled that very well.  And I don’t think I’m quite there on that, actually, now.  But it’s all a learning process on how to interact with the media and even colleagues or students or that sort of thing.  And so prioritizing how I spend my time is definitely a challenge.

ANDY CROWE:  And then what to do when the Men in Black show up.  So, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Tabetha, I have a question about when I think of the diversity of the contributors, those that are working with you to try to solve this mystery, I sympathize as I think about your – how do you figure out who to direct onto what piece of this puzzle they need to attack?  So you have people that have specific knowledge, and then you have people that have incredible passion for this.  And you’re trying to quarterback this and put the right person with the right knowledge, the right skill set, the right passion, focusing on one piece.  Do you have any advice for others who are trying to figure out the same thing of where to put people in terms of the things that need to get done to solve this mystery?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, yeah, that’s a very good question.  And I think I’m very lucky because I’m surrounded by awesome people just to start out with.  And not just awesome in the respect that they know what they’re doing, but they’re really enthusiastic about it, too; right?  And as an educator, we all have students that we want to train.  And this is all like things that are – it’s what we do and what we get excited about.  And so I just – I got really lucky that I have this great team that I work with.  There’s not that many astronomers around the world anyway.  I think there are probably like 6,000 of us.  And so now I pretty much know everybody, it feels like.  Yeah, I got lucky on that, and so I don’t really have a winning kind of statement on how to identify these team members.

NICK WALKER:  Tabetha, I’ve got to ask you this question.  Maybe it’s the elephant in the room.  But you mentioned earlier that you can’t really rule anything out in terms of what might be causing this star to dim, that it’s doing things that you’ve never seen before.  So how possible is it that there is some kind of alien life form out there – yeah, you knew I was going to ask that.  How possible is it that that’s what’s going on out there, that they’re building something that’s getting in the way?  They’re building some of sphere around the star?

ANDY CROWE:  All right.  As a scientist she can’t possibly answer that question.

NICK WALKER:  Just tell me what you really think; okay?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Okay.  So this idea came – right, right.  This idea came from my colleague, Jason Wright, who’s at Penn State.  And he was writing a paper at the time, testing the idea that was proposed a decade before by an astronomer, Luke Arnold, that said that Kepler’s extreme precision, like the precision photometry that was coming out of this mission, could detect these artificial structures circling around stars.

And so what Jason Wright did is he said, okay, well, Kepler’s made some amazing discoveries of things that we never thought that we’d see.  And he gave examples of each one of those:  why it was very, very weird, it was the first time we ever saw it; and why it’s interesting in the SETI viewpoint, for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence; and what the natural explanation for each one of these is.  And so they’re all very odd observations, but they all had a natural explanation.  And then this one didn’t really fit into that same analysis because, yeah, it’s really odd, but we didn’t have a natural explanation for it.

And so the mindset that we put forth is that it’s an interesting target to set up; right?  It’s very cheap to look at; right?  If you want to look for leaked communication of that sort, there’s ongoing monitoring programs to actually do this and search for these signals, if it was some sort of very large structure from some very advanced civilization.  And so maybe I lost track of your original point here; but, like, it was a scientific paper, like published in a reputable astronomy journal, right, that tested this idea.  And it’s not something that should be taboo in a sense, even though it is.  And that’s a really interesting point.

So people who work on astronomy and doing exoplanets, finding exoplanets, finding Earth outside of our own solar system, going around other stars, right, the main objective, like we want to find ET; right?  We want to find a rocky planet around another star.  We want to find it in the Goldilocks zone, where it can form water.  We want to know that there’s plate tectonics going on this planet.  We want to know if there’s any signs of life or oxygen in the atmosphere, these sorts of things, all working towards this goal where you have another group of scientists – excuse me.  You have another group of scientists also observing the sky; right?  And they’re looking for the end result.  This is SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  These two groups, astronomers and folks that do SETI, they don’t mix; right?  We don’t go to the same conferences.  We don’t read the same papers.  This is very, very weird and pathetic.

BILL YATES:  Hmm, Crips and the Bloods.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  You know, we all want the same thing in the end.  One is kind of going toward the end result; one is kind of happy down this line of, okay, we’re finding planets and finding biosignatures and this sort of thing.  But we all look at some same results.  But there’s this sort of taboo that you can’t mix one with the other.  And something that a fairly good group now is trying to work towards merging these two fields because we are actually going for the same results.  We shouldn’t be ignoring each angle in these respects.

ANDY CROWE:  I’d say you’ve built quite a bridge there.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, yeah, definitely.

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm, yeah.

NICK WALKER:  And it’s all come together with Tabby’s Star.  Tabetha, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.  Before we let you go, how can people follow the progress of this project?

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  They can follow – we have a website, www.wherestheflux.com, and that has a blog where we post somewhat daily updates on the data that’s coming out and things like that.  And also Twitter is the way everyone communicates these days, so you can search for the #TabbysStar.  I should note that the more formal way of referencing this star is Boyajian Star.

And that came up after a bit of chatter on the fact that all objects that are named after somebody have their last name as what we name them.  So we have Kapteyn’s Star and Barnard’s Star and these sort of things.  And if I’m Tabby’s Star for this one, it should actually be Boyajian’s Star.  And folks had pointed out that this was a bit sexist, that since I was a woman, first woman to have a star named after them, and it’s her first name, it should follow convention, pretty much.  So #BoyajianStar, but people still use in colloquial settings Tabby’s Star because my name just sucks to say.

Yeah, so following Twitter and our website blog.  We’ve also a really great discussion forum that we’ve created because I get excess of emails from very enthusiastic amateurs or just anybody who will just have questions and thoughts or want to contribute in some way.  And so we’ve established an official discussion page on Reddit.  There’s a subreddit for this star.  So you can look that up, and that’s a really great place that has a whole bunch of FAQs.  There’s a great list of moderators that help facilitate the discussions and these sort of things.  And so that’s also a really good resource for folks to look into.

NICK WALKER:  Well, Tabby, we have a special gift for you, just for taking the time to talk with us.  It’s a special Manage This coffee mug.  I recognize this pales in comparison to having a star named after you.  But nevertheless, I hope you’ll use it.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  Well, thank you.  It’s been delightful talking to you guys.

ANDY CROWE:  Likewise.

TABETHA BOYAJIAN:  And in some ways I’ve learned a lot because, yeah, project management is definitely not easy, especially when you’re kind of thrown into it, probably did some things very untraditionally.  But it is doable if you surround yourself with great people, and you kind of let go of responsibilities that you’re normally used to doing, but just to try and save your peace of mind, for that matter.

BILL YATES:  Well, we admire what you’re doing, Tabetha.  And I’ve got to tell you, you had us at “robotic telescopes.”

NICK WALKER:  Thanks again, Tabetha, for being with us.  Andy and Bill, fascinating discussion, thanks so much.

We here at Manage This want to do all we can to keep you current on what’s going on in the project management world.  And when it comes to earning PDUs, we’ve got your back.  You’ve already earned Professional Development Units just by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com/managethis.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and then just walk through the steps.

That’s all for this episode.  Join us again on December 19th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can tweet us at @manage_this if you have any question or comment about this or any other episode of our podcast, or about project management certifications.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

4 responses to “Episode 47- The Most Mysterious Star in the Universe with Tabetha Boyajian”

  1. Laura Williams says:

    This was fascinating… Thanks for putting these podcasts together.

  2. Douglas Bishop says:

    What’s the subreddit? What are we supposed to look for? https://www.reddit.com/r/KIC8462852/?

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