Science

Astronomers find ‘alien megastructures’

Objects orbiting a far-away star have caught the public’s attention

Astronomers from Penn State University have detected what they think may be a large cluster of objects orbiting around a star in the milky way. This ‘bizarre’ star system described by Jason Wright may have been built by an alien civilisation. Despite alleging that aliens could be a possible explanation for the phenomena, he commented that aliens should always be the last hypothesis one considers.

The now famous star, named KIC 8462852, lies between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, above the Milky Way. It’s been catching the attention of astronomers since 2009, when the NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope first flagged it up as a candidate for having earth-like, potentially habitable planets. Kepler uses analysing techniques to investigate light emitted from other far away stars in the universe, investigating in particular how planets orbit their stars and obstruct the light patterns. The strange light pattern that KIC 8462852 was emitting stood out among the 150,000 stars that the Kepler Space Telescope monitors. It has been found that a dip in the starlight from KIC 8462852 is not part of the expected pattern.

Another astronomer, Tabetha Boyajian of Yale University, believes the documented dipped pattern could have been a fault with the detection equipment, but this has since been ruled out. The ‘objects’ block out so much light, that it has been humourously referred to as an ‘alien megastructure’.

In 2011, the star was under the watchful eye of Kepler’s ‘Planet Hunters’ team who also found the star ‘bizarre’ with ‘alien megastructure’ debris surrounding it. However, it has been pointed out that before planets are formed, it’s normal for a mass of debris to surround a young star. But KIC 8462852 is not a new star which calls for investigation as to why this phenomena is occurring. Two possible hypotheses are that the debris must have been deposited around the star recently or formed together by gravity.

Obviously this sparked interest for further research and Boyajian, who oversees the ‘Planet Hunters Project’, has been looking into other possible explanations for the cluster of objects. She has ruled all but one out, which is that another star has been attracting comets too close to KIC 8462852, causing fragmentation which perhaps contribute to the ‘alien megastructures’. The likelihood of the strange objects having been built by aliens is being taken seriously by Andrew Siemion, the director of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and Mr Wright. There has been speculation that intelligent beings are trying to harness solar energy through a similar means to our own – a set of solar panels around the star. The three astronomers, Mr Wright, Ms Boyajian and Mr Siemion, want to investigate further by using radio dish technology to hunt for wavelengths associated with technological civilisations around this star.

Nobody is seriously theorising that this is evidence of the existence of a technologically advanced alien civilisation, this is being treated only as a rather jocular possibility. It’s too early to form any conclusions, however, we have embarked on an exciting journey. Technological advances will enable us to find new discoveries and we certainly look forward to what further research will reveal.

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