Scientists can't explain the bizarre behavior of KIC 8462852.
Scientists are buzzing due to a strange dimming star that they can’t explain, and some are suggesting this may be the best chance yet to find an “alien megastructure.”
Using the Allen Telescope Array, which is a collection of radio dishes about 300 miles from San Francisco, scientists are trying to find signals coming from the area of KIC 8462852 in the hopes of finding life outside our own planet, according to a Space.com report.
It will not be an easy search, as this star is a full 1,500 light years from Earth, but it’s the best candidate for alien life based on the weird way it’s acting.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope was finding that KIC 8462852 had some bizarre qualities to it: it was dimming dramatically several times in recent years, which were far too massive to have been caused by just a planet crossing over its face. Some have suggested an enormous dust cloud, but that doesn’t work as an explanation. The best non-alien explanation is that a passing star possibly left behind a huge swarm of comets that are now circling this star, but that doesn’t seem like a very plausible explanation either.
There’s one more explanation: aliens. Specifically, an alien megastructure built by an alien civilization, such as perhaps a massive array of orbiting solar panels, something we humans would love to be able to pull off but aren’t quite technologically advanced to do so.
Granted, this isn’t a very likely scenario, but given the bizarre behavior of KC 8462852, the lack of good explanations for this behavior, and the fact that many scientists believe life must exist somewhere else in the universe, this may be our best chance yet to find aliens.
That will require extensive research, which has begun in earnest with the help of the Allen Telescope Array.
Of course, our own history of scientific discovery suggests that we aren’t likely to find an alien origin for this phenomena. After all, when we first discovered pulsar signals — which is when black holes violently eject matter into space — back in the 1960s, scientists thought they might have been alien transmissions because they didn’t have a better explanation.
Still, it’s an interesting possibility, and one many scientists feel is worth looking into.
We can thank the Kepler space observatory for a lot of these recent discoveries. Kepler was intended to be a planet hunter, and it has more than lived up to its billing, spotting all sorts of Earth-like planets in our galaxy and increasing the number of known candidates for life. It has also expanded our own understanding of how planets form and just how common planets like Earth are in the universe.
Kepler was named after Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler. The spacecraft was launch back in March of 2009, and in the few short years it has been at work, it’s made some big discoveries and hugely expanded scientists’ knowledge of planets.
The spacecraft has just one instrument: a photometers meant to monitor the brightness of 145,000 main sequence stars. It sends the data back to Earth, allowing scientists to measure the periodic dimming of the star in order to determine what planets are rotating around it, how big they are, and how receptive to life they would be.
NASA’s Kepler website describes the importance of its mission, which is excerpted below:
“The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars.
“There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants. The following websites are tracking the day-by-day increase in new discoveries and are providing information on the characteristics of the planets as well as those of the stars they orbit: The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, NASA Exoplanet Archive, and New Worlds Atlas.
“The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist.
“The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets.
“Results from this mission will allow us to place our solar system within the continuum of planetary systems in the Galaxy.”
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