Has the Kepler Space Telescope discovered an alien megastructure?
The recent developments in exoplanet research has led to the discovery of hundreds of planets in distant star systems. When this area of research first arose, astronomers believed they would only find exoplanets numbering in the dozens in other star systems. One of these in particular has captured the imagination of the public. This is because it has stymied scientists’ efforts to explain it – leading to public speculation of an alien “megastructure”.
Within the Cygnus and Lyra constellations, researchers have discovered something that they simply don’t understand – this lack of clarity comes from mysterious dips in data from star KIC 8462852.
Researchers working on the Planet Hunters project used this method to find exoplanets, but ended up discovering an anomaly in their data between the Cygnus and Lyra constellations on star KIC 8462852.
One of the methods used to find exoplanets is called the transit method. Astronomers wait for the object to move across a star and then they measure the luminosity of the star over a period of time. When the object transits the star, there would be a dip in the amount of brightness, and this would let astronomers know that a planet or object is orbiting that star.
Normally, exoplanets show a repeatable and somewhat predictable dip pattern using the transit method which corresponds with their orbit around the star.
In the case of KIC 8462852, however, the luminosity dips are periodic and cause the star to dim by 22 percent which is a significant drop for a transiting object. These facts are quite irregular for an average orbiting planet which led these astronomers to hypothesize what could have caused this anomaly.
As noted by Bob King on Universe Today, the first theory concluded that a collision between two planets occurred which could have generated a gigantic dust cloud. Essentially, this would explain the diminished luminosity of KIC 8462852. However, this theory failed because dust glows in infrared light from starlight and the data does not exhibit an unusually high amount of infrared light for this star type.
The second theory was that a comet broke apart into even smaller comets. This event can easily occur when a comet passes close by a star and it is torn apart by the star’s powerful gravity.
The final and most interesting theory is that there is not a natural cause for the anomaly. If extraterrestrial life does exist, it could be possible that this irregular transiting object could be some “alien megastructure”. However, most astronomers believe this hypothesis should be a last resort for an explanation. As research in exoplanets expands, researches might find similar anomalies in other star systems to further explain the mysterious transiting object.
What should perhaps be given greater weight is that, for all the discoveries science has made over the past few decades, the amount that we don’t know is, for want of a better word, astronomical. The irregular dips in the light could be caused by any number of celestial processes that science is, at present, unaware of. While it might be interesting to speculate that Kepler has found a “Death Star” – it is far more likely that Kepler has discovered something that science just doesn’t have a word for – yet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amoree Hodges is a SpaceFlight Insider Launch Correspondence volunteer who hails from the Florida Institute of Technology, where she is currently working to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Amoree loves telescopes and all things that are related to space, and NASA.
Hodges is planning on a career in public science communications, and will be using her internship with SpaceFlight Insider to gain greater science and engineering communications experience while she works on completing her studies.
Founded at the very dawn of the Space Race in 1958, the Florida Institute of Technology is the only independent, technological university located in the Southeast. Times Higher Education ranks Florida Tech in the Top 200 Universities in the World. The university has been designated a Tier One Best National University in U.S. News & World Report, and is one of just nine schools in Florida lauded by the 2014 Fiske Guide to Colleges. The university offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Fields of study include science, engineering, aeronautics, business, humanities, mathematics, psychology, communication and education.
Amoree, what a fascinating story! Keep it up, Gal.
James A. Henrie
No matter what it is, it’s probably going to be pretty unusual. To be blocking up to 22% of the star’s light, the object(s) have to be quite large–larger than a planet unless this is a very small star. That most every explanation so far seems unlikely (including that it is an alien construction) may just mean that we got lucky enough to see something rare, which is exciting. Or it may be something nobody has even speculated about, which simply enormous fun! (Unless it’s a gigantic death ray pointed at us, about to be turned on. That remains exciting, but not fun. Not likely, so I’m holding out for fun!)
I expect they will follow up this discovery with doppler measurements. A large radial disturbance of the star’s position would indicate a large orbiting mass.
Great article. Thank you.
Not necessarily. What ever the object or objects are that could be causing these apparent transit signals will be affecting the measured radial velocity signature independently of any orbital reflex motion by blocking light from successively different parts of the spinning star. If we assume that the object orbits the star in the same directing as the star rotates, a large orbiting object will first block light from the part of the star that is rotating towards us creating a signal that makes the star appear to be heading away from us. As that object moves across the face of the star, it will eventually block the part that is rotating away from us creating a signal that make it appear that the star is heading towards us. In the end, we end up with a Doppler velocity signal that makes the star appear to move towards us then away from us when in fact it has not moved at all. In the end, this false signal will tell us nothing about the orbiting body’s mass.
Is aliens they come to kill the seth bouy
Good point Andrew, but comparing the light when the object is centred in front of the star with that when the object is behind the star should give some idea of the mass.
For a large object of unknown shape orbiting a star, your proposed approach will not work. The resulting measurement uncertainties in the velocity (driven primarily the uncertainties in the assumed shape and properties of the transiting object) could easily run into hundreds of meters/second – many times larger than the potential signal of a planetary-mass object in a moderate size orbit. Similar limitations are currently experienced in the search for planets orbiting active stars with star spots covering just a tiny fraction of the star’s surface enough to dim its light by just a couple of percent or even less. Any result derived from an object dimming the star’s light by up to 20% would never be considered reliable enough for a mass determination.
I suspect that this story will vanish into the “this does not fit the nasa storyline” waste bin never to be heard from again.
According to Ancient Roman Structures the shadow casted upon this star depicts the relative differential between the so called “Alien” structure and the star itself. Theoretically, if this were in fact to be, “Aliens”, then they would clearly come to abduct Will Smith and his entire family before we even had knowledge of their existence. Goodnight.