TAMPA (CBS Tampa) – If there is a spacefaring civilization somewhere else in our universe, what would it look like? How would we know?
It might look like the strange conditions that have been observed around a star that is invisible to the naked eye.
The star, dubbed KIC 8462852, is about 1,500 light years from Earth.
Using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have studied the star for over four years.
“We’d never seen anything like this star,” Tabetha Boyajian, who heads a group called Planet Hunters at Yale University, told The Atlantic. “It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”
By analyzing patterns of light and darkness coming from the star, astronomers can tell if a planet or other object may be orbiting it.
For example, a distant observer could detect the presence of planets around our sun because they block some of the light the observer would see. Of course, the amount of light involved in these observations is incredibly small, maybe just a few photons. The Kepler Space Telescope is equipped with light detectors sensitive enough to measure these minute changes.
What’s unusual about this star, is that the periods of light and dark don’t follow the regular pattern you would see if there were just natural objects around it.
That has led some to speculate what we are seeing is evidence of an intelligent civilization.
Astronomers have tried to come up with a natural explanation for the strange phenomenon, but have fallen short.
“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” said astronomer Jason Wright with Penn State University. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
Wright suggests the unusual light patterns are is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps some sort of advanced technology that collects energy from the star.
Astronomers plan more detailed observations of the star, which is in the Northern Hemisphere between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra.