Alien Megastructures Discovered Orbiting Star! . . . Or Not

Or how a somewhat mundane scientific light flux analysis by Yale researcher T. S. Boyajian gets picked up by media and blown out of proportion . . . or not.

Let’s back up a minute and boil it down to understandable terms.

KIC 8462852The star in question is KIC 8462852, a rather boring, mature main sequence F3 star that’s approximately 1500 light years away.  The light we’re observing today left KIC 8462852 around the time the dregs of the Roman Empire were being swept away by the winds of history (~500 AD).  During a four year period the Kepler space observatory gathered data on the amount of light flux emanating from the star.  It’s a common method for astronomers to identify if a star has orbiting exoplanets.  If a star’s measured light flux waxes and wanes, especially at regular intervals, it’s a signature that some object is moving between the light source and observatory.  In almost all cases this indicates a planet orbiting the star.

KIC 8462852 is an exception.  Astronomers (professional and amateur) have been looking at its light flux data and scratching their heads in exasperation, for they’ve never observed any naturally occurring behavior like this.  The scientists have already ruled out measurement errors or anomalies.  Other theories included asteroid belt pileup, planetary impact, and swarms of comets being sucked in by the star.  None of which really explain, from the experience of the scientists, what’s being observed.  The flux signatures indicate that a lot of strange and large things are orbiting the star.

[box type=”download” align=”” class=”” width=””]It was kind of unbelievable that it was real data. We were scratching our heads. For any idea that came up there was always something that would argue against it.

~Tabetha Boyajian, Yale University[/box]

So, when one can’t come up with an explanation for space based phenomenon, we naturally fall back to . . .


Dyson SphereA new theory has emerged.  One that’s incredibly implausible, but feeds our tinfoil hat culture:  Alien megastructures must be orbiting the star.  Enormous solar collectors, a Dyson sphere (or Dyson swarm), anything your imagination can come up with . . . as long as aliens.

I admit, it appeals to my geeky side and such a discovery would be amazing in a world shattering kind of way.  The original author of the paper is now working with SETI to secure radio dish time to point at the star and see what it has to say in the radio spectrum in order to augment the visual spectrum data.  If all goes well they should have ears on KIC 8462852 by early 2016, then we will know if there are Death Stars orbiting other stars, or if it’s just another undiscovered natural phenomenon that astrophysicists need to quantify.

Stay tuned.

Until then you can read the full article over at The Atlantic.

© 2015-2020, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
All images/videos cited copyright to their respective owner(s).

1 Comment

  1. I find the Dyson-sphere concept fascinating, except that one would need the entire material of more planets than are likely to be found just to fashion it. The engineering demands are so substantial that reforming nearby planets and asteroids will always be more economical. If one accepts that other civilizations are probably, or even necessary, then the infrared signature of such structures would be visible with current instrumentation. Scans of whole galaxies have already ruled out the presence of any. But watching this thing unfold was very entertaining.

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