A distant star observed through NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope features a strange diming pattern that a university researcher says might indicate the presence of alien “megastructures.”
Jason Wright, a Pennsylvania State University researcher who looks for Earth-like planets with conditions favorable to life, is set to publish a paper with his theory that the pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures” that are perhaps solar panels designed to capture the star’s energy, he told The Atlantic on Tuesday.
The star is surrounded by a cluster of debris that’s common among young stars, but not among mature ones like KIC 8462852, said Tabetha Boyajian, a post-doctorate researcher at Yale University who examined the star in detail before sharing her findings with Wright.
The star is located about 1,500 light-years away from Earth, between the Cygnus and Lyre constellations in the Milky Way galaxy. That means that the dimming observed by the telescope was caused by objects that existed around the star in the 6th century CE.
“We’d never seen anything like this star,” Boyajian told The Atlantic. “It was really weird. We thought it might be a bad data … but everything checked out.”
Boyajian recently authored a paper examining possible natural explanations for the debris. The explanations included instrument defects or a planetary-scale impact that left matter circling the star, the paper said. Another possible explanation is that a nearby star transited through the unusual star’s system, bringing a group of comets along with it, it added.
But those explanations were unlikely, as the light pattern didn’t appear on any of the other 150,000 stars viewed through the Kepler Space Telescope, Boyajian said.
Wright’s soon-to-be-released paper builds on Boyajian’s findings.
“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” 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.”
Other researchers are skeptical of Wright’s theory, arguing that the debris is more likely the result of something natural and mundane, such as comets swarming the star. However, most are still intrigued by the findings.
“Whether there are aliens constructing huge megastructures to meet their power needs at KIC 8462852, or — overwhelmingly more likely — it’s a more natural scenario, this is a pretty weird and interesting star. And it’s definitely worth investigating further,” Phil Plait, an astronomer, wrote in Slate.