With Halloween just around the corner, when monsters, myths, and aliens all have their spooktacular moment in the limelight, it is little wonder that the discovery of a space anomaly has spawned talk of extraterrestrial life.
In 2010, a science program called Planet Hunters was launched at Yale University. The following year, using data from the Kepler Space Telescope, a star dubbed KIC 8462852 was noticed to have an unusual tendency. The way that planets are currently identified is to look for periods of diminished light emanating from stars, which would indicate a planet passing between it and our view…orbiting its sun. KIC 8462852 has shown an unusual variation of this occurrence.
Approximately 800 days into the program’s observations, there was a massive drop in the star’s brightness: 15%. The next drop was recorded around day 1500, at a whopping 22%. At this magnitude, it can be assumed that the cause is not a planet; not even a Jupiter-sized mass could have diminished the star’s light by more than a single percent. Further dips, if they have happened, have not been recorded as the Kepler Space Telescope suffered extensive damage in 2013.
Various theories have attempted to explain this irregularity, from asteroid collisions to proto-planets, but only one natural cause even seems plausible. It may be that a group of comets orbiting KIC 8462852 was set off course by the proximity of another star, which would send large fragments of ice and rock flying in a manner that would account for the diminished light and its irregularity. However, even the astronomers studying this phenomenon agree that, feasible or not, this is an unlikely explanation due to the short lifetime of the Telescope. In the span of the cosmos, that’s hardly the blink of an eye, so the odds that we would have caught such an event are slim.
With the improbability of the natural hypotheses, it is a short jump to consider explanations of the extraterrestrial variety. A popular theory with scientists is that advanced galactic cultures would likely be recognized by the ability to collect their energy from their sun. This suggests that the diminished brightness of KIC 8462852 could be caused - not by space debris – by a megalithic structure or collection of smaller satellites meant to harness solar power.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, is working on a new project to search around this star for radio waves that are generally present with such a level of technology.
The potential is exciting, that we may have stumbled across alien life at long last. It is just as fathomable an explanation as the comets, or some other as-yet-unknown interstellar phenomenon. And it is far more fun to think about! Even more fascinating is the fact that, being nearly 1500 light years away from Earth, what we are seeing is from the time of our 6th century. If an alien race was able to put forth such technology back then, it boggles the mind to imagine how far they have come by now. Not only that, but it also stands as encouragement to where we humans are headed, ourselves.
What do you think? Have we discovered an alien civilization?
Share your opinions in the comments!