KIC 8462852 is a star far from here, 1480 light years away, with a rather unusual habit – the star dims drastically every few years.
Boyajian, a Yale University astronomer, wrote a paper on possible reasons for this star’s odd behavior, but also sent her data to fellow astronomer Jason Wright a researcher at Penn State for other possible reasons as he had helped in the development of a protocol for locating signs of alien civilization.
When Wright examined the data it appeared to be the kind of he and his colleagues had been waiting for. If none of the ordinary reasons for the star’s flux seemed to aptly, perhaps an extraordinary one was in order, an alien one if you will!
— a “swarm of mega structures,” as Wright is quoted in the Atlantic; outfitted with solar panels to collect energy from the star. He continued; Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.
In actuality, both Wright & Boyajian consider this a distant possibility, not the top theory, but it is interesting that it is being entertained. In all honesty, the only reason it isn’t the primary theory is because we don’t know of any aliens. Could this be because any theory of aliens is so far down the list? (just postulating!)
Still, while this certainly isn’t the first theory involving a possible alien structure – it is a more credible one. Wonder why?
KIC8462852 (kinda rolls off the tongue, no?) was discovered by citizen scientists. You know the drill; there are a of of planets out there and without letting these citizen scientists chime in, well, no one could possibly look at all that data. So what these citizen scientists do is sift through the data recording brightness levels from roughly 150,000 different stars just beyond our grasp/the solar system.
Usually, these planet hunters are simply looking for the telltale drops in brightness that happen when a planet crosses in front of its sun. Brief interruptions – like a hand waved in front of a flashlight preventing the progress of light as it makes its way toward Earth/your back yard. Sometimes, in all things, it is not the presence of something that tells you what you need to know, but the absence. Using this methodology many, now confirmed, planets have been discovered and there are some additional ones that are still unconfirmed/current candidates. But overwhelmingly these volunteers began marking this star as odd starting as long ago as 2011.
In addition to having dips in its brightness, there were the intervals that weren’t exactly consistent. One survey caught the brightness dropping 15% at 800 days and then around day 1500 22%. (These dips in light last 8-80 days!)When considering what could cause such a large drop there was a bit of consternation. It could not have been a planet – even a Jupiter sized planet would only dim a star by about 1% during transit. Unfortunately further investigation was inhibited by the Kepler Telescope having been badly damaged in 2013.
By the way – Boyajian and her colleagues did verify the data, check that it wasn’t a telescope malfunction, checked other stars in the neighborhood and they were acting ‘normal’. Also, when a star is particularly young it is still collecting mass. During this time frame the diming could be explained by a whirl of orbiting dust and rock and gas that could blur or block the light. But this was not a young star.
Then they dug even deeper. Perhaps something was blocking the star’s light from the outside, catastrophic crashes in the asteroid belt? Maybe a giant collision in the planetary system that then spit out debris into the solar system? OR perhaps a passing star or comet sent a debris field of rock and ice into its path. But alas, every explanation was lacking in some way, with the exception of one: there was a family of comets orbiting KIC8462852.
BUT to return to the more interesting theory, alien technology – think of it! Possibly a group of satellites or space habitats that in turn block its suns light with some irregularity; still, the star is 1400 light years away, we aren’t likely to meet these aliens anytime soon!