The Kepler space telescope has spotted an anomaly while watching the star KIC 8462852. After running through the known possibilities, scientists have come up empty handed in their attempts at explanation.
Kepler’s mission is to hunt for Earth-like planets in our own Milky Way Galaxy and has found over a thousand planets since 2009. It looks for dips in light patterns of the star that could be signs of an orbiting planet. Most of these follow a consistent pattern, but not KIC 8462852. The star has seen dips in brightness twice in the 4 years Kepler has been watching it, of 15 percent and down to 22 percent normal brightness. The latter appearing as a clump of dips, which would indicate several transiting objects.
Tabetha Boyajian, along with other astronomers and citizen scientists published a paper tackling the various scenarios that might cause these fluctuations in light. All explanations have problems, such as a circumstellar disk of dust. Normally, this would occur with a young star, not one as old as KIC 8462852, and no sign of this dust was found when looking for the infrared signal that would normally be associated with such a disk. Another plausible explanation might be a field of comets disturbed by a passing star, though it is noted that it would be extremely lucky for us to have observed this one time transit. There are other issues with even this explanation outlined in the paper.
This paper purposely did not mention an alternative explanation, but it is one they are looking into, currently working with SETI to point a radio telescope at the star to listen in for any artificial signals. Given the unnatural seeming signs from this star, the last possibility researchers are looking at is that it may be an artificial mega structure, such as would be seen in a Type II Kardashev civilization.
The Kardashev scale measures a civilization’s technological advancement by the energy it can use. A Type II being capable of using the energy of its star. This means scientists are currently looking into the possibility that an alien civilization, 1500 years ago or more, built a megastructure around a star to harness its energy for their use. That is an exciting possibility, but not one to get too worked up over. Considering this star is 1500 light years away, it’s not likely this hypothetical civilization would notice our planet during Roman times, which would be the light they are receiving now.
What is exciting about this find is that it is something unknown, something not seen and easily attributed to known phenomena. Regardless of what it turns out to be, or if we ever determine for sure what it is, it is a new set of findings to add to our arsenal in exploring the stars. It may be this is the first time we spot this type of reading in what becomes a new normal that can be attributed to some naturally occurring event we previously were unaware of. Or it could be the finding of a lifetime, the first alien structure ever detected, either from a long dead civilization or a currently thriving one. Because remember, just because a structure exists, it does not mean that it was built recently, or is under construction. It could be a remnant from a billion years ago. But if we can determine for sure it is artificial, we could know, finally, that we are not alone in this universe, and that would change everything.