Unusual Star Raises Talk of Alien 'Megastructures'

SETI may take a closer look
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 15, 2015 9:36 AM CDT
Unusual Star Raises Talk of Alien 'Megastructures'
File photo of deep space from the Kepler telescope.   (AP Photo/NASA, JPL Caltech)

Something very weird has been spotted in space, and a quote from an astronomer at Penn State gets to the heart of why it's so intriguing: "Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build," Jason Wright tells the Atlantic. The "this" he's referring to involves an unusual star in the Northern Hemisphere's sky named KIC 8462852, one that the Kepler telescope first began looking at in 2009. Based on the weird light pattern it's emitting, the star appears to have a "big mess of matter" around it, writes Ross Anderson. The problem is that, based on the star's age and other factors, scientists can't explain why that "mess of matter" is there. In a new paper, they float a number of scientific explanations—"occultation by circumstellar dust clumps," for instance, or comets—but none mesh well with current scientific understanding. “We’d never seen anything like this star,” says lead author Tabetha Boyajian of Yale. “We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”

Enter Penn State's Wright, who floats a doozy of a less scientific theory: The light pattern could be explained by some kind of massive structures built by aliens. No, Wright "isn't some wild-eyed crackpot," writes Phil Plait at Slate, and, in fact, Wright tells Plait the idea should be approached "skeptically." (Plait agrees, calling it, "um, unlikely.") Indeed, it "may sound like science fiction," notes a post at Discovery, "but our galaxy has existed for over 13 billion years, (and) it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to think that an alien civilization may be out there and evolved to the point where they can build megastructures around stars." Wright is working on a proposal with SETI to investigate further by pointing a radio telescope at the star. The idea is to "listen in for a sort of buzz that indicates not alien radio signals, but a sort of hum of alien technology," explains Popular Mechanics. Who knows, it adds, this could be the "smoking gun that we're not alone." (This billionaire is using his money to boost the search for alien life.)

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