Washington Post: The strange star that has serious scientists talking about an alien megastructure
Scientists say the possibility is very remote, but they may have found evidence of an artificial structure surrounding a star 1,481 light-years away from Earth. The Washington Post reports:
The strange star that has serious scientists talking about an alien megastructure
October 15, 2015
“It was kind of unbelievable that it was real data,” said Yale University astronomer Tabetha Boyajian. “We were scratching our heads. For any idea that came up there was always something that would argue against it.”
She was talking to the New Scientist about KIC 8462852, a distant star with a very unusual flickering habit. Something was making the star dim drastically every few years, and she wasn’t sure what….
… “When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright said. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
To be sure, both Boyajian and Wright believe the possibility of alien megastructures around KIC 8462852 is very, very remote. It’s worthy of hypothesis, Wright told Slate, “but we should also approach it skeptically.”
Yet compared to the vast majority of supposed sightings of signs of extraterrestrial life, this one has some credibility….
… Volunteers marked it out as unusual in 2011, right after the program started: a star whose light curves seemed to dip tremendously at irregular intervals. At one point, about 800 days into the survey, the star’s brightness dropped by 15 percent. Later, around day 1,500, it dropped by a shocking 22 percent. Whatever was causing the dips, it could not have been a planet — even a Jupiter-sized planet, the biggest in our solar system, would only dim this star by 1 percent as it transited across…
… Scientists — at least, the ones who like to theorize about these things — have long said that an advanced alien civilization would be marked by its ability to harness the energy from its sun (rather than scrabbling over its planet’s resources like us puny earthlings). They envision something like a Dyson Sphere, a hypothetical megastructure first proposed by physicist Freeman Dyson that would orbit or even encompass a star, capturing its power and putting it to use.
Obviously, a Dyson sphere has never been spotted in real life, though they’re all over science fiction. But if one were to exist, it wouldn’t look like a metal ball around the sun — it would probably comprise a chain of smaller satellites or space habitats, something that would block its star’s light as weirdly and irregularly as the light of KIC 8462852 has been blocked. That’s why researchers who are interested in finding alien life are so excited about the finding.
Boyajian, Wright and Andrew Siemion, the director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, are now working on getting access to the massive radio dishes they can point at the star in search of the kinds of radio waves usually emitted by technology.
If they find them — well, that would be very big and very, very unlikely news.
Of course, the star in question is about 1,481 light-years away from Earth…