Astronomers say the Kepler Space Telescope may have spotted a swarm of alien “megastructures” orbiting the distant star KIC 8462852, located between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, about 1,481 light years from Earth.
According to astronomers, the star, first identified by the Kepler Space Telescope in 2009, has been determined to have in orbit an irregular cluster or mass of “megastructures” that may not be natural objects.
Pennsylvania State University astronomer Jason Wright told the Atlantic that his team is set to publish a paper proposing that the swarm of irregular “megastructures” orbiting the star KIC 8462852 could be artifacts of an advanced technological civilization.
The Kepler Space Telescope first detected KIC 8462852 in 2009 when astronomers noted the star as a candidate for a system with orbiting Earth-like planets. Although the star itself was not unusual in any way, it became the cynosure after amateur astronomers with Kepler’s Planet Hunters team flagged it in 2011. Attention drew to the star after an “interesting” and “bizarre” pattern of dimming was found that suggested the star was surrounded by a mass of irregularly-shaped matter orbiting in tight formation.
Dimming refers to temporary blocking out of star light which occurs when planets pass in front of their parent star. The phenomenon is an important signal that astronomers use to detect the presence of bodies, usually planets, orbiting a star. After using the Kepler Space Telescope to screen 150,000 stars for dimming patterns as part of the search for habitable planets project, astronomers had assumed at first that the dimming pattern observed in KIC 8462852 was evidence of yet another exoplanet orbiting the star until they observed that the pattern was unusual and bizarre.
According to Tabetha Boyajian, a Yale postdoctoral researcher with Kepler, “We’d never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”
The pattern of dimming suggested that the star was surrounded by a jumbled mass of huge and irregularly shaped objects orbiting in very close formation.
While the “bizarre” pattern may not have raised eyebrows in relation to the nascent system of a young star, it was an odd observation in relation to the system of an old star where scientists expect that natural orbiting bodies have had enough time to coalesce under gravity and form regular shaped planets and planetoids.
And even if an older star was still being orbited by debris and dust fields it would normally give off infrared light which was not observed in the case of KIC 8462852.
Following these strange observations, scientists explored alternative natural explanations, and after considering several, including instrument errors and planets impacting, they were unable to find an explanation consistent with observations.
However, some astronomers thought it was possible, but highly improbable, that another star’s gravitational field had pulled several comets into the system of KIC 8462852, forming an asteroid belt around the star.
But, the probability of such a scenario was estimated as being so remote that many scientists could not accept it, especially when nothing close to it had ever been observed elsewhere.
While astronomers scratched their heads for an answer to the baffling questions raised by the observations. Wright and a colleague, Andre Siemion, Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, suggested that the mass of megastructures strewn around the planet could be artifacts of an alien technological civilization.
They pointed out that the objects look like what one would expect if, for instance, a technologically advanced alien civilization had set up massive solar panels around the star to harvest energy directly from it.
Emphasizing that the proposal the “megastructures” could be artifacts of alien technology was not being put forward lightly, Wright told the Atlantic, “I was fascinated by how crazy it looked. Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
There is only one way to test the provocative hypothesis, and that is to point radio telescopes directly at the star and look for radio signals that suggest the presence of technological alien civilizations.
Researchers with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are taking the proposal seriously and have tabled a proposal to scan the vicinity of the star for radio wave frequencies suggestive of technological activity.
Astronomers plan to commence observations by January.
If the first trials give promising results astronomers would conduct follow-up observations using the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, which would give more accurate measurements that could help to narrow down on the possibly of a technological civilization in the star system.
Wright told the Atlantic, “If things go really well, the follow-up could happen sooner. If we saw something exciting… we’d be asking to go on right away.”