Alien Megastructure Star: Scientists Detect Sudden Dimming, Adds New Mystery

The star known as KIC 8462852, a star now famed for its mysterious dimming and speculation that it could be losing brightness due to an “alien megastructure” being constructed around it, has added another layer of mystery to its uniqueness. A new study has detected that, along with its regular rate of dimming, KIC 8462852 has also seen a “rapid and non-linear” reduction in brightness. And scientists are at a loss to explain why the dimming occurred.

The Daily Mail reported August 5 that a new study has found that KIC 8462852, or Tabby’s Star, has undergone a “dramatic” shift or reduction in brightness, a dimming far in excess to its regular rate of decreasing brightness as to be very noticeable. Caltech astronomer Ben Montet and Joshua Simon of the Carnegie Institute studied the star, which is about 1,480 light years from Earth, and found that it was dimming at a rate of 0.34 percent each year at first, but then there was a sudden spike in increased dimming (a rate of 2.5 percent over a 200-day period) and then a return to the regular rate.

Monte told Gizmodo that they at first did not believe their data.

“The part that really surprised me was just how rapid and non-linear it was. We spent a long time trying to convince ourselves this wasn’t real. We just weren’t able to.”

The duo also were not able to discover just why KIC 8462852 had undergone such an intense dimming. Still, their work has provided astronomers and astrophysicists with yet another mystery to solve concerning the unusual star.

Since it was monitored by the Kepler Space Telescope during its four-year mission, KIC 8462852 has garnered attention for its oddly quick dimming, relatively speaking. And with the attention, of course, came speculation as to why the decrease in brightness was occurring. One idea that especially caught the attention of scientists as well as the internet and the general public was that the dimming was being caused by the construction of an alien megastructure either in line with Kepler’s — and, by extension, Earth’s — viewpoint or such a structure was only partially complete. It was suggested that a Dyson sphere, a construct that envelopes a parent star in order to gain and channel the energy of said star, might be responsible. It was excitedly argued that such an enormous structure would have to be the work of an advanced alien civilization (hence, “alien megastructure”).

But the alien megastructure position wasn’t the only theory offered. The star could be made dimmer by a massive transiting planet, some argued. A swarm of comets was also tendered, but that theory, like the occluding planet idea, was seen as insufficient in explaining just why the star continued to decrease in brightness. Research being done by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sought to find planetary dust left over from massive collisions to explain the anomaly but were unable to detect any such evidence. And although the various ideas are debated, none have been accepted as the definitive answer to the puzzle.

Besides, the alien megastructure or Dyson sphere theory appealed to the alien hunters and those hopeful for the discovery of alien life. But the more KIC 8462852 is studied, the less that evidence points toward the effect on the star being the work of an alien civilization.

SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute Seth Shostak admits that this is often the case with discoveries that at first appear to be of alien origin. “The history of astronomy tells us,” he says, according to the Mail, “that every time we thought we had found a phenomenon due to the activities of extraterrestrials, we were wrong. But although it’s quite likely that this star’s strange behaviour is due to nature, not aliens, it’s only prudent to check such things out.”

In fact, SETI did attempt to ascertain whether or not KIC 8462852 might be producing technology-related radio signals. The Institute’s study found nothing to indicate that alien technology was in any way connected to the star.

It would seem that Montet and Simon’s work would also point away from the alien megastructure theory (unless a portion of the structure broke loose before being recaptured and/or replaced?). But then, the work doesn’t completely rule out the possibility that the dimming of KIC 8462852 could in some way be alien influenced, either.

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