There’s been a sudden development in an amazing astronomical mystery we reported very recently regarding a star discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope and known as KIC 8462852. The star was identified as “bizarre” and “interesting” by citizen scientists during that telescope’s survey of 150,000 stars. Further investigation by astronomers turned up only two hypothesis for the strange light patterns coming from the star, either (1) another star had swooped nearby and deposited a load of comets as it passed, or (2) the objects causing the dimming were structures intentionally built by an alien species.
The official paper published about KIC 8462852 went with comets as the most probable explanation, but the team felt that the alternate explanation would be worth investigating, and SETI astronomers have already started using the Allen Telescope Array in California to search for signs of intelligent signals coming from the star.
An excellent article on Space.com fills in the details:
That latter possibility [of alien structures], remote though it may be, has put KIC 8462852 in the crosshairs of scientists who hunt for signals that may have been generated by intelligent aliens.
“We are looking at it with the Allen Telescope Array,” said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California.
“No problem with that; I think we ought to, for sure,” Shostak told Space.com. But, he added, people “should perhaps moderate their enthusiasm with the lessons of history.”
Shostak cited the example of pulsars, fast-spinning, superdense stellar corpses that emit beams of high-energy radiation. These beams are picked up by instruments on and around Earth as regular pulses, because they can only be detected when they’re fired straight at the planet (an event that occurs at predictable intervals because of pulsars’ rotation).
Astronomers know all this now. But in the 1960s, when the first pulsar signals were discovered, some scientists interpreted them as possible alien transmissions.
“So history suggests we’re going to find an explanation for this that doesn’t involve Klingons, if you will,” Shostak said of the KIC 8462852 mystery.
So, the ATA array may or may not find signals that are evidence of an alien civilization, but even if such signals are not found, that doesn’t mean that there is no life there or that the objects circling the star were not intentionally built. Even in the case that ATA is not successful in the search, astronomers will have to continue investigating KIC 8462852 using other telescopes in hopes of confirming what those objects really are.
Source: Space.com – “Search For Intelligent Aliens Near Bizarre Dimming Star Has Begun”
Feature Photo Credit: SETI Institute