The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered an unusual pattern of lights around a distant star in outer space. WikiImages / Pixabay
For the past six years, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has noticed unique light signals or dips in the brightness of a distant star, known as KIC 8462852. Out of over 1,000 extra-solar planets that have been cataloged by Kepler, this is the first one that is emitting a light pattern that is different from the others.
The dips in the star’s brightness are not consistent with orbiting planets passing in front of it. This has led to speculation that there could be two possible causes:
- An alien megastructure or cluster of orbiting megastructures that may have been built by an advanced civilization in order to divert and use the light energy from the star;
- Exocomets from an asteroid belt that may have passed close to the star and been broken up by its gravity, creating large clouds of orbiting gas and particles of dust.
According to an interview with Yale University astronomer Tabetha Boyajian for the New Scientist, “It was kind of unbelievable that it was real data. We were scratching our heads. For any ideas that came up there was always something that would argue against it.”
Boyajian was the leader of a team of astronomers who reached the conclusion that the unique signals were probably caused by dust and gas from exocomets. She then forwarded her research to Jason Wright, a Penn State astronomer who is working on a protocol for seeking signs of alien civilizations.
Wright believes that the unusual pattern of lights coming from the star could be the result of a “swarm of megastructures” that have been created to collect light energy from the star.
Wright told The Atlantic that, “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
At the same time, Kimberly Cartier, a colleague of Wright, is discouraging wild speculation about the cause of the unusual lights. She told Business Insider that they are not completely convinced that the light signals are coming from an alien megastructure, “but we also can’t completely rule it out.”
Boyajian, Wright and Andrew Siemion, the Director of SETI (The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), at the University of California, Berkeley, have teamed up and submitted a grant proposal to investigate what role extraterrestrial life might play, if any.
Another astronomer, Phil Plait, has said the group hopes to investigate the signals further by pointing a massive radio dish at the star in order to determine if they can pick up the types of wavelengths that would be consistent with a technological source.
Some of the funds for the research are coming from a donation made to SETI by Yuri Milner, a Russian internet billionaire, according to Popular Mechanics. The money will be used to strengthen the power of radio telescopes in West Virginia and Australia that have been searching for signs of intelligent life in outer space for nearly 50 years. Astronomers expect to begin observing the light signals coming from KIC 8462852 in January, 2016.
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