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Kepler’s ‘Bizarre’ Signal Sparks Alien Intelligence Speculation

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The fascinating speculation surrounding a recent Kepler observation of a star 1,500 light-years away has reignited questions of alien life in our universe and what it means for future studies.


ANALYSIS: Has Kepler Discovered an Alien Megastructure?

First I really want to emphasize, as I did in my previous blog about KIC 8462852, that the root cause of a very strange Kepler transit signal is most likely due to natural phenomena. (A transit occurs when an exoplanet — or, in this case, something else — drifts in front of its star and Kepler detects a slight dimming of starlight.) After analyzing the unique transit signal identified as being “bizarre” by the Planet Hunters community, researchers did a thorough job identifying a possible mechanism by which significant and distinct dimming events could have been triggered.


Among the likely natural causes of the star brightness dimming outlined in a paper submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and made available on the arXiv preprint service on Sept. 11, astronomers looked into debris from a possible planetary collision, the presence of circumstellar rings, starspots, and a clump of comets. All possibilities were investigated, but all were unsatisfactory, except for the latter.

The comet clump explanation seems to answer many of the mysteries about the strange transit signal. A nearby star, only 1,000 AU from KIC 8462852, could have caused some gravitational perturbations during close approach, possibly sending a swarm of comets toward the star, blotting out up to 22 percent of the star’s light from Kepler’s view.

ANALYSIS: Could Kepler Detect Alien Artifacts?

Our galaxy, which contains hundreds of billions of stars and countless more planets, is over 13 billion years old. The human race has evolved in the tiniest fraction of this time and modern astronomy has only just opened our eyes to the cosmos over the last couple of hundred years. The likelihood of seeing a thriving civilization of advanced extraterrestrials building some kind of solar array around KIC 8462852 at this precise moment in time is extremely tiny. So it is more likely that if the radio signal hunt turns up empty handed, but the object is proven to be an artificial megastructure, it could be the remnant of a civilization that has come and gone — it could be a huge artifact of a bygone alien age.

Seeking out alien artifacts is not a new idea. The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA)and, indeed, the Search for Extraterrestrial Technology (SETT) are both variations of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) theme and one such project recently concluded that our local galaxy is devoid of advanced alien beings that can harness all the energy from their star.

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