October 18, 2015
Aliens: gotta be somewhere, maybe.
“It was kind of unbelievable that it was real data,” said Yale University astronomer Tabetha Boyajian. “We were scratching our heads. For any idea that came up there was always something that would argue against it.”
She was talking to the New Scientist about KIC 8462852, a distant star with a very unusual flickering habit. Something was making the star dim drastically every few years, and she wasn’t sure what.
Boyajian wrote up a paper on possible explanations for the star’s bizarre behavior, and it was published recently in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. But she also sent her data to fellow astronomer Jason Wright, a Penn State University researcher who helped developed a protocol for seeking signs of unearthly civilization, wondering what he would make of it.
To Wright, it looked like the kind of star he and his colleagues had been waiting for. If none of the ordinary reasons for the star’s flux quite seemed to fit, perhaps an extraordinary one was in order.
Or, to be more specific, something built by aliens — a “swarm of megastructures,” as he told the Atlantic, likely outfitted with solar panels to collect energy from the star.
“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright said. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
To be sure, both Boyajian and Wright believe the possibility of alien megastructures around KIC 8462852 is very, very remote. It’s worthy of hypothesis, Wright told Slate, “but we should also approach it skeptically.”
The problem is, if we meet aliens, they’re going to want these kikes stopped as a prerequisite for opening up interplanetary trade routes.