Energy

Astronomers Still Baffled By Potentially Alien Mystery Star

(Shutterstock/Bruce Rolff)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

Advanced alien life is still one of the best explanations for the mysterious behavior of the star “KIC 8462852,” according to a new study that observed the star for 15 months.

“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 a study on the star, told Gizmodo. “None of the considered phenomena can alone explain the observations.”

So far, astronomers haven’t found a good single naturalistic explanation for the star’s unusual behavior. Astronomers examined 500 other stars in the vicinity of KIC 8462852, and saw nothing else like it. The new study debunked several other possible explanations for the star.

KIC 8462852 is dimming in an odd manner, which would require it to be orbited by huge and dense formations that would block out its light. The dense formations near KIC 8462852 appear to be similar to “Dyson Spheres,” hypothetical, energy-harvesting “megastructures” aliens could build by rearranging the solar system. However, the kind of naturally formed large masses that cause KIC 8462852’s dimming aren’t consistent with the star’s age.

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.

Scientists found the dimming star last October, when Astronomers with Yale University and other top schools published a study on it that used NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

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 actually 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 are so low they render it essentially impossible.

Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley Breakthrough Listen project of SETI are directing the program’s $100 million budget towards investigating the star’s unique behavior.

The star’s behavior being unusual doesn’t necessarily mean it is the result of alien life, a caveat followers of the phenomenon are careful to mention.

Astronomers previously misjudged abnormal stellar occurrences and, usually, the abnormalities are simply a new occurring natural 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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