Astronomers are about to pour $100 million into investigating a star that may be surrounded by a large structure built by an alien civilization.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen project of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are turning the program’s $100 million budget into investigating the star’s unique behavior.
“Everyone, every SETI program telescope, I mean every astronomer that has any kind of telescope in any wavelength that can see Tabby’s star has looked at it,” Dr. Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center, said in a press statement. “It’s been looked at with Hubble, it’s been looked at with Keck, it’s been looked at in the infrared and radio and high energy, and every possible thing you can imagine, including a whole range of SETI experiments. Nothing has been found.”
Researchers will repeatedly scan the star for eight hours per night over the next two months to examine its extremely unusually dimming behavior. The star randomly dims by as much as 22 percent of its output at extremely irregular intervals. This is consistent with large orbiting masses, much larger than planets, blocking out some of the star’s light when they pass in front of it. All the natural forms of large masses which could cause KIC 8462852’s dimming aren’t consistent with the star’s age.
Scientists found the first possible evidence of this extraterrestrial civilization around KIC 8462852 last October, when astronomers with Yale University and other top schools published a study that used NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.
So far, astronomers haven’t found a single naturalistic explanation for the star’s exceedingly unusual dimming, which explains the extremely unusual behavior of the star. Astronomers have examined 500 other stars in the vicinity of KIC 8462852, and seen nothing else like it.
The dense formations near KIC 8462852 are similar to “Dyson Spheres,” hypothetical, are energy-harvesting “megastuctures” theoretical aliens could hypothetically build by rearranging the solar system. Scientists have pondered the existence of Dyson Spheres since the 1960s, thinking they could be a potential solution to energy problems faced by an extremely old civilization. SETI scientists have long argued humans could detect distant alien civilizations by looking for technological artifacts like Dyson Spheres orbiting other stars.
“We spent a long time trying to convince ourselves this wasn’t real. We just weren’t able to,” Ben Montet, a Caltech astronomer who co-authored research on the star, told Gizmodo. “None of the considered phenomena can alone explain the observations.”
The best naturalistic explanation favored by astronomers, involves a huge mass of comets erratically orbiting the star and creating enough dust to dim the light, but a January analysis of the star’s history renders that hypothesis implausible, since the unprecedented dimming has continued for over a century. In order to dim for such a long time period, the star would need to have millions of times more dust and comets orbiting it than is the case.
Astronomers estimate that the dimming would require roughly 648,000 giant comets of 200 kilometers in diameter, all aligned to pass in front of the star. The chances of such a formation render it essentially impossible, and there is currently no remotely plausible scientific explanation for what is going on with KIC 8462852.
Astronomers have previously frequently misjudge abnormal stellar occurrences and, usually, the abnormalities are simply a new phenomenon.
A graduate student in astronomy, found an usual pulsing radio signal so predictable it seemed to be a sign of intelligent life in 1967. The astronomers even nicknamed the signal LGM-1, for “little green men,” and believed they had detected a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization, but it turned out to be the first pulsar.
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