Energy

Mysterious Star Baffles Scientists, Resurrects Alien Debate

(Shutterstock/Pavel Chagochkin)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

The dimming of a sun 1,276 light years away from Earth has once again sparked a debate over whether or not aliens could be responsible for its strange behavior.

Telescope operators around the world reported that the star, classified as KIC 8462852, began spontaneously dimming Thursday night, suggesting that dense formations were orbiting the star and blocking its light. The dimming has continued, baffling astrophysicists.

This is the first time scientists have been able to witness the star dimming live from multiple telescopes around the world.

Scientists say that the dense formations responsible for the dimming appear to be similar to “Dyson Spheres,” — hypothetical, energy-harvesting “megastructures” built by alien civilizations. The formations may not be natural in origin because the size of the orbiting object isn’t consistent with the star’s age or the amount of dimming.

Scientists have wondered about the existence of Dyson Spheres since the 1960s, suggesting they could be a potential solution to energy problems faced by an ancient civilization. Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence scientists have long argued that humans could detect distant alien civilizations by looking for technological artifacts, like Dyson Spheres, orbiting other stars.

The star KIC 8462852 dimmed by roughly 22 percent in 2013, but scientists didn’t study the event very closely. In comparison, if a planet the size of Jupiter passed in front of our own star, an observer would see just a 3 percent reduction of light.

“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 agreed on a good single natural explanation for the star’s unusual behavior. Astronomers examined 500 other stars in the vicinity of KIC 8462852, and saw nothing else like it.

Recent research debunked several other possible explanations for the star’s behavior. The best natural explanation for the dimming is that a belt of 648,000 giant comets all aligned to pass in front of the star. The chances of such a formation existing are so low, however, that the scenario is essentially impossible.

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