'Alien Megastructure' May Be Comet Family
But it's still a very strange star, astronomers say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 26, 2015 5:42 PM CST
An illustration of a star behind a shattered comet.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

(Newser) – KIC 8462852 is an odd and fascinating star, astronomers say—but it probably isn't host to an "alien megastructure," as some researchers suggested as a longshot possibility when the star and its highly unusual dimming pattern first came to attention. Instead, Iowa State University researchers who studied infrared light emitted by the star in the Cygnus constellation believe that the likeliest explanation is the "destruction of a family of comets," which caused dramatic changes in the light observed by the Kepler telescope as the fragments and debris cloud moved past the star in a long, elliptical orbit. The team didn't actually look for alien structures, but they were able to use the infrared data to rule out possibilities including a massive collision nearby, the Washington Post reports.

The SETI Institute has also investigated the star, and found no trace of the radio signals that would suggest extraterrestrial technology was present, CNN reports. But even without aliens, nothing like what is happening around KIC 8462852 has ever been seen before and astronomers want to learn more. "This is a very strange star," lead researcher Massimo Marengo said in a NASA press release. "It reminds me of when we first discovered pulsars. They were emitting odd signals nobody had ever seen before, and the first one discovered was named LGM-1 after 'Little Green Men.'" "We may not know yet what's going on around this star," he added "But that's what makes it so interesting." (Closer to home, astronomers have discovered that Mars is destroying its own moon.)