There is something strange going on in the space between the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. The Kepler Space Telescope has been recording light data emitted from stars and has captured some unexpected activity from one star in this section of the sky. Astronomers have come up with several possible explanations for the irregularity, one of which is straight out of a science fiction plot: could it be an alien civilization?
The Kepler telescope and its team of astronomers have had their eyes on this star since 2009, when citizen astronomers from the group Planet Hunters pored over the data and alerted them to the fact that the small dips in light emitted from one ball of fire did not act like other discoveries, in that a repeated pattern of dips would indicate the orbit of a planet. Rather, the pattern suggested a large mass of objects is circling the star. This could easily be explained away as a predictable swirl of dust and debris that accompanies a young star, and is later organized into planets and other cosmic entities, but there’s one caveat: this star is mature. Astronomers are confident of its older status because there is no extra infrared light that would indicate settling dust from a younger star.
Scientists have been scratching their heads about just what this giant mass could be and recently compiled a paper regarding the possibilities. Some of the potential scenarios include defects in the instruments used, debris from an asteroid belt, a passing star carrying with it a trail of comets, or a planetary impact on the scale which created Earth’s moon. All of the natural scenarios conjured mean one thing: whatever we are witnessing is extremely rare. To be able to witness one of these events would mean perfect cosmic timing, or, pardon the pun, that some planets are seriously aligning.
An alternative hypothesis is being investigated, leaving Yale postdoctoral researcher and Planet Hunters overseer Tabetha Boyajian intrigued. As the primary author of the aforementioned paper, she said she is also considering “other scenarios.” Jason Wright, a Penn State University astronomer, was fascinated by the paper and is set to publish an alternative investigation into the patterns. He believes they could be a “swarm of megastructures,” such as solar-energy receptors. Wright explains, “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
These two are teaming up with Andrew Siemion, the Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, to submit a proposal to gather more information about the star. They would like to use a radio dish pointed at the star to see if it is emitting radio waves consistent with technological activity, hopefully taking place in January. If that yields provocative information, they will then hope to use the New Mexico Very Large Array (VLA) to assess if the radio waves do, in fact, originate from a technological source – as radio waves carried out to space from Earth behave. Meanwhile, we will have to wait with bated breath as we ponder whether astronomers have stumbled on advanced life forms lightyears away.
Via The Atlantic