The Case Of The So-Called Alien Megastructure Just Got Weirder

The Case of the So-Called Alien Megastructure Just Got Weirder

It's probably not aliens. Seriously guys, it's very, very unlikely that it's aliens. But the weird, flickering star known as KIC 8462852 still isn't sitting right with astronomers. In fact, it just got a lot weirder. 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 per cent. That's highly unusual stellar behaviour, and it can't be explained by a transiting planet.

Some astronomers proposed that KIC 8462852 might be occluded by a swarm of comets. Others suggested aliens.

Specifically, astronomer Jason Wright tossed out the idea that the star's weird distortion might be the result of a giant alien construction project — you know, like a Dyson sphere. The idea electrified the citizens of Earth and mobilised a worldwide SETI search for hard evidence of our celestial neighbours. Sadly, two independent searches, for radio signals and laser beams — both of which could indicate a technological society — didn't pan out. (And remember, we've confused inexplicable observations for aliens many, many times before.)

But according to a study just released on 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 per cent, something that's "completely unprecedented for any F-type main sequence star".

"This presents some trouble for the comet hypothesis," Tabetha Boyajian, a lead researcher on the team that originally discovered the star, told New Scientist. "We need more data through continuous monitoring to figure out what is going on."

Indeed, it's hard to imagine either aliens or natural celestial bodies dampening a star's light output that much over such a short period of time.

It will be a while yet before we've solved the mystery of KIC 8462852. But this is what's great about scientific discovery. Literally all possible explanations are on the table at this point — and the truth about this tantalising star could be more fascinating than we ever imagined.

[New Scientist]

Top image via NASA/JPL-Caltech


Comments

    This planet is approx 1480 light years away - so what we are seeing happened a long time ago.

    Still smazing that we live in such a strange universe - it's good that we realize that we don't know everything..,

      Its starkiller base!!!!

      Maybe it's just a big planet with a really slow orbit a long way out, enough to partially eclipse the star. An orbit of 1000s of years so its still moving across its star from our perspective :)

    I wonder if in the future we look back on ourselves like we look back on early man. Everything they saw in space that they couldn't understand was immediately God or some supernatural force. I can just see us in 500 years time... "Remember when humans thought that fluctuating light was aliens?? Hahaha humans were so stupid."

      Actually our Neanderthal ancestors believed in using their brains. No gods or evil spirits. Their dictionary of language included a few words. One meaning 'to reflect' was also meant 'to rebound'. So ones reflection was caused by something that bounced back at you.

        You realise 'Clan of the Cave Bear' was fiction right?

        There are no Neanderthal dictionaries, let alone any evidence of a written language.

        The only evidence for their use of language is anatomical. Unsurprisingly, no recordings exist of Neanderthal speech.

      Projecting the potential growth of our own energy requirements thousands of years into the future, then arriving at a logical conclusion involving technology that, while well beyond our capabilities today, might just be possible in several thousand years (assuming we haven't wiped ourselves out, haven't been victims of an extinction level event impact, and that our technological achievements continue at the same exponential rate that they have since the industrial revolution) is a worthwhile thought experiment. It points us in the general direction of where we may very well be going as a civilisation, and it gives us clues as to what much more advanced civilisations may appear like from thousands of light years away. It is an intellectual exercise, and couldn't be more opposite to the superstition and religion you lumped it in with, which are examples of the ultimate in intellectual laziness.

    As long as the primes are still contained behind the shield, we'll all be fine....

    Just don't let the starflyer know..

      Nice Hamilton reference. Was thinkin the same thing. Could be early trials of the Starkiller base, but no. That happened in a galaxy far, far away.

      I was thinking Dudley Bose will have it all in hand... So to speak.

    maybe aliens haven't mastered battery technology either at the time.

    What about a single star orbiting a black hole? Can't that cause the dips in light intensity?

      If the star was orbiting a mass that emitted no visible light it would be obvious from the movement of the star. It's not orbiting anything, so it's not a black hole.

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