In a recent paper, a team of astronomers and chaos theorists at the University of Hawaii have shown that time itself can be fractal. After plotting white-blue star KIC 5520878’s periodic brightness fluctuations at half-hour intervals over the course of four years, they were able to hone in on some mysterious — yet not surprising — patterns.
Stars often don’t shine at a constant rate. Ours does, yes, but that’s hardly the rule. As giant nuclear furnaces they’re subject to all sorts of different influences, some known and others not so much. Some pulsars spin around every few milliseconds, like cosmic strobo-lighthouses, while asymmetric binary star systems often have their own characteristic wobble. Even relatively “normal” stars might expand and contract like molten hydrogen hearts as outward bursts of radiation seek balance with inward gravitational attraction. So: in this way, a star can have a characteristic frequency.
KIC 5520878 actually has two characteristic frequencies (for reasons so-far unknown), and it’s in the relationship between the two that we find our fractals. It’s simple really: “two of KIC 5520878’s characteristic frequencies—with a 4.05- and a 6.41-hour cycle, respectively—had a ratio of 1.58, close to the golden mean, an irrational number,” the researchers, led by systems theorist William L. Ditto, write.