The internet is very good at blowing things out of proportion, so when some astronomers theorized that the odd light curve of a distant star discovered by the Kepler space telescope may be proof of alien megastructures, the excitement level rocketed beyond the great unknown. But it seems Kepler’s mysterious star may not be that controversial after all.
Although KIC 8462852, as the object is known to astronomers, does have an odd light curve which is not resembling a normal exoplanet or even a binary star light curve, scientists behind the Kepler space telescope’s planet-searching mission believe we should be more careful when applying the ‘alien life or technology’ label.
Because the telescope uses a special detection system that observes planets and stars by identifying when another celestial body passes in front and dims the light, this peculiar object displayed a unique pattern — like something orbited KIC 8462852 and caused dimming at irregular intervals, ranging from 15 to 22 percent.
This conclusion was postulated by Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctoral student at Yale University, in a paper published this October in a British journal called the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Several citizen and amateur scientists also described the star as having an unusual light pattern, and suggested that it might have matter circling it.
Boyajian explored different reasons for this phenomenon, including possible errors caused by the telescope itself, an asteroid pile-up, a colossal impact that could have created a sea of comet debris and even the effects of a Jupiter-sized planet, which would only dim the light by about 1%. Still, it’s pretty far-fetched to blame aliens before ruling out natural causes.
On the other hand, Jason Wright from Penn State University thinks that KIC 8462852 is surrounded by a swarm of artificial structures, not unlike alien solar energy panels. His theory shook the internet to its core, though it was quickly debunked after Steve Howell, a US space agency scientist working on the Kepler project, pointed out the fact that another star, known as KIC 4110611, was also found to have an unusual light curve.
As it was later proven, KIC 4110611 turned out to be a five star system — something truly rare, indeed, but completely natural. Howell is convinced that further studies will shine new light on this mysterious star and prove that the universe is odd enough without the implication of aliens.
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