Out in the far reaches of space there lies an alien star that has been bewildering scientists since early this year because of the strange variations in its brightness levels and its tendency to dim inexplicably.
Dubbed KIC 8462852 or Tabby’s Star, the alien sun appeared to dim up to 22 percent over the course of a century suggesting that something big was passing in front of it. The strange sighting led to speculation about a possible Dyson Sphere megastructure that could have been built around the star by advanced space aliens.
Now, astronomers have spotted a second star that has the same strange light variations and scientists are starting to formulate an explanation.
The new star, named EPIC 204278916, is about the size of our sun with only about half its mass and has been noted to dim irregularly up to 65 percent over 25 days while scientists watched it.
The strange light variations and unexpected dimming coming from the star has scientists baffled. When something really big like a planet passes in front of an alien star, astronomers here on Earth record a 1 percent drop in brightness. So a 65 percent drop is amazing, and the observation has led to a number of theories, some reasonable and others not so much.
When scientists spotted the first star, KIC 8462852, they theorized its light could be blocked by a massive swarm of comets orbiting its system. This theory was discarded when scientists realized it would take 648,000 comets, each about 124 miles wide to block that much light coming from a star.
Another theory said KIC 8462852 could be a “distorted star;” meaning the alien sun spins so fast its equator is wider than its poles, but that theory was also debunked.
Other theories suggested the presence of massively ringed planets, planetary collisions or disintegrating comets, but none of these ideas were taken seriously.
Running out of options, some scientists speculated there could be a massive alien megastructure, or Dyson Sphere, around the far away star that was causing the strange light fluctuations. As the alien superstructure neared completion, more light was being blocked, but this theory didn’t sit well with everyone in the scientific community as Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright told the Atlantic.
“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
Now, with the discovery of the second strangely dimming star, scientists are starting to formulate an explanation that doesn’t involve space aliens. Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, writing for Forbes, has theorized the alien sun could be surrounded by a dense ring of dust and gas known as a protoplanetary disk that we’re seeing edge-on instead of at angle like we usually do.
If the disk were being viewed edge-on from Earth, it could account for the strange light variations observed in both alien stars. This would make even more sense if the star was young, which EPIC 204278916 is. The alien star is only about 11 million-years-old compared to our sun, which is estimated to be 4.5 billion-years-old, according to Forbes.
“Young Stellar Objects (YSOs) are known to have the large flux dips that this weird star has, and they’ve recently been shown to come in a variety of inclination angles.”
As proof of this theory, Siegel points to a new study by a German team that suggests the strange light variations from EPIC 204278916 could be caused by a massive dust cloud. This could also explain KIC 8462852 or Tabby’s Star. Scientists initially thought the alien sun was much older, but new research suggests it could be much younger.
Even more exciting, if this is all true it means scientists have discovered a new stage in the evolution of stars, as Siegel writes in Forbes.
“This is also interesting, it just isn’t aliens like many were hoping for. Science isn’t about what you hope for, it’s about what the evidence points towards.”
[Image via Shutterstock]