Back in October, Allahpundit wrote about that strange discovery picked up by the Kepler space observatory more than a thousand light years away from us. A star named KIC 8462852 has been doing some very strange things, with its light dimming and flaring by amounts far greater than could be explained by even a large planet orbiting it and doing so in irregular time intervals. This had scientists scratching their heads and late night comics riffing off it for weeks. None of the scientists wanted to say that it could be aliens (because that tends to end your career in the ivory tower community) but they admitted that in theory it could be some sort of Dyson Sphere type mega-structure built by a highly advanced civilization. Of course, they had to come up with something more acceptable than that, so they settled on saying the phenomenon was probably being caused by a giant swarm of comets or something.
Well, some of the eggheads have been poring over the data and it sounds like the comet swarm theory isn’t going to hold water, at least according to Louisiana State University astronomer Bradley Schaefer. (Business Insider)
That bizarre-looking star just got a lot weirder — and yes, it could be aliens
“The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot,” Schaefer told New Scientist. “But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas.”
To make his discovery, Schaefer had to dig deep down into the astronomy archives at Harvard. It turns out, astronomers have data on KIC8462852 dating back as far as 1890…
What’s more, he explains in his paper that this “century-long dimming trend requires an estimated 648,000 giant comets (each with 200 km diameter) all orchestrated to pass in front of the star within the last century,” which he said is “completely implausible.”
So this has been going on for as long as we’ve had telescopes to point at the sky. The comets would have to be pretty much a solar system of their own to explain it and the numbers don’t add up anyway. The SETI team is throwing cold water on the alien theory at the same time because they can’t find any intelligent radio signals coming from Tabby’s Star, as it’s informally known. But hey… what does that prove? Maybe they’re all telepaths and don’t have any need for radio.
Much like Allahpundit, you could swing a broom handle in most any location and find somebody who is more of an expert on this stuff than me, but it’s too interesting of a subject to just ignore. The relevant articles linked above have all sorts of fascinating theories and background information, but they don’t answer the basic question on everyone’s minds: is that star system the home of the long sought aliens with advanced technology we can only dream of?
Let me just toss this out there for the peanut gallery to chew over. Based on the only real observations we have thus far we don’t seem to know anything for sure beyond the fact that the light we observe coming from the star is dimming at odd times currently, and has been growing dimmer in general for at least a century. To my layman’s mind that means we should start by narrowing this down to two basic families of explanations: either something between that star and the Earth is blocking the light from Tabby’s Star or the star itself is randomly changing, leading it to give off vastly lower levels of light at times.
If it’s the former, I suppose I can see why scientists are so confused. The things that hang out around stars tend to be in orbit, held there by the gravity of the host. They don’t generally have the ability or the inclination to accelerate, decelerate or change course other than following the pull of that gravity. For that reason they should pass in front of the star on some sort of regular basis. Even if it was some sort of Dyson Swarm in orbit around the star, it would still be moving in a regular path… unless it was being artificially manipulated.
If it’s the latter explanation – that the star itself is giving off rapidly shifting amounts of light – the argument seems to be that we’ve never seen a star do that before. But so what? We’re constantly finding new things scattered around the universe. There could be something fundamentally different about this one that we simply don’t understand. But as with so many other things, modern scientists seems to really hate having their current theories challenged. (See Dark Matter.) We barely understand how gravity works so I have no trouble imagining that there are some weird stars out there doing unpredictable things.
So what’s the answer? I have to go back to the reliable explanation on this one.