Scientists find a weird star — and evidence of an advanced alien civilization?

Word on the internet is that scientists have found a weird star that may have alien technology orbiting around it, perhaps taking energy from it. Even stranger? The idea isn’t completely preposterous.

How we came across the star

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope is a big telescope located in space designed for the purpose of finding earth-like planets outside of our solar system, orbiting other stars. What we do, typically, is stare at other stars and look for dark spots in their light. These dips in the stars brightness are sometimes caused by planets, comets, gasses, and other things which happen to be passing in front of the star. Since we have trouble seeing the planets directly, this is a way of detecting their presence. This is called a “transit” in astronomy (see the video below) and it’s what’s caused all of todays hoopla about aliens building a megastructure near the star KIC 8462852.

Thousands of planets have been discovered using this method. Since the planets orbits are usually short (repeating every few days, weeks, or months, depending on the size of the planets orbit), they cause us to see a dip in the starlight periodically. But for the star making all the headlines today, KIC 8462852, the dips being seen aren’t periodic and aren't at all normal. One dip dropped the stars light by 15% and another by a huge 22%! Comparing that to the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, which would only block roughly 1% of this kind of stars light if it were to pass in front of it. The scientists knew right away that this massive dip wasn't caused by a mere planet.

It can’t be a star either, for that matter. We’d see it if it were a star. It’s also nothing in the telescopes processing, so we know the dips are real. Nor is it simply starspots (like sunspots, just on different stars than the sun). And whatever’s blocking this stars light, it’s huge — up to half the width of the star itself, in fact. And there’s hundreds of dips in light to be seen. Strange, large, irregular shapes in front of a star, which aren’t occurring at regular intervals. The big question has become: What could be causing this?

What do we know?

• The star is called KIC 8462852

• It's more massive, hotter, and brighter than the sun

• The star is 1,500 light-years away, making it too faint to see with the naked eye.

• KIC 8462852 was one of over 100 thousand stars observed by NASA’s Kepler mission.

• Out of 150,000 stars, this bizarre light-pattern hasn’t shown up anywhere else. So something unique is happening.

• The dips can’t be a planet. It’s too large and its lack of a regular repeating signal cancels that out.

• The dips can’t be a neighboring star. If it were, we would see it.

• Whatever is causing the dips is big. So big that it can block up to half the width of the star itself.

• There are hundreds of dips in the star light.

• The dips don’t occur regularly.

• There are odd, irregular shapes in the dips.

• It’s not something in the telescopes processing. Meaning the dips are real and not caused by our instruments.

• The dips are not due to starspots (like sunspots, only on a different star).

So where do the aliens come in?

Tabetha Boyajian, who recently published a paperdescribing the stars strange light patterns, showed the results to an astronomer from Penn State University named Jason Wright, who studies exoplanets and, as it happens, has researched how to look for signatures of advances alien civilizations in Kepler data.

Those who professionally work on the Search for Extra Terrestrial  Intelligence (SETI — remember them from the movie/novel Contact, right?) have long suggested that we may be able to detect distant civilizations by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright says the unusual pattern seen in KIC 8462852’s light is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures”.

The idea here is that a technologically advanced civilization may be trying to harness the energy from a star. It’s a good and interesting idea that was made popular years ago by physicist Freeman Dyson, where a civilization could build thousands of gigantic solar panels and have them orbit around a star so that they could capture that stars sunlight, convert it to energy, and beam it back to their planet to use. An especially advanced civilization could build millions or billions of these panels. It’s an idea that eventually became exaggerated and known as a Dyson Sphere, where a structure is built completely (spherically) around a star to capture most or all of its power output.

Wright isn’t saying that a Dyson Sphere is being built here, but it is a possibility (however unlikely) that some kind of alien-made structure could be what we’re seeing. Improbable, but not crazy. Boyajian, Wright, and the Director of the SETI Research Center at the university of California, Berkley, Andrew Siemion, are even writing up a proposal to point a massive radio dish at the star, to see if it emits radio waves at frequencies associated with technological activity. If they find something interesting, they’ll follow up with the Very Large Array Radio Telescope in New Mexico, which will perhaps let them know if the waves were emitted by a technological source.

A Few Non-alien-related Possibilities

• There could have been a collision of planets (like the collision that resulted in our moon). This could cause a lot of debris consisting of random rocks and dust clouds that could cause a series of transits similar to the ones seen at KIC 8462852. Dust created in these sorts of collisions warm up and glow, though, in the infrared. It’s known how much infrared that a star like KIC 8462852 gives off and scientists see just enough of it. If these gases were around, there should be an excess of infrared there that scientists aren’t seeing.

• There could be a series of comets orbiting the star. These could be surrounded by clouds of gas and other materials that could result in the same kinds of dips seen. The lack of excess infrared would still be a problem here, but not as much of a one.

Most — perhaps even all — stars have their own Oort clouds at a region billions of kilometers out, where a lot of icy objects are located (its likely that Haley’s comet originated from our own Oort cloud). If a star happened to pass nearby, it could possibly disrupt KIC 8462852’s Oort cloud, sending ice chunks flying down toward the star, where they would break up to create all of those weird dips. Ices in them could heat up, blow off gas, and could explain the odd shapes of the dips detected as well. This possibility is further supported by the fact that there indeed is another star located close by; a small red dwarf about 130 billion kilometers out — close enough to affect the stars Oort cloud. With that being said, it takes a lot to block out 22% of the light of a star as massive as KIC 8462852. It’s difficult — albeit possible — to imagine that comets could block out that much light.

Whatever the case, let's check it out!

Hey, aliens or no aliens, whatever is going on with this star is definitely not ordinary. Further study is bound to help us learn something. And if that something happens to be an advanced alien civilization who is really into clean energy, then that's awesome. If not, well, at least we found something new. Either way, it's win win.

Information taken from

Planet Hunters X. KIC 8462852 - Where's the flux?