Space

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope sheds light on "alien megastructure" star

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope...
Artists impression of a comet family passing in front of KIC 8462852
Artists impression of a comet family passing in front of KIC 8462852
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Artists impression of a comet family passing in front of KIC 8462852
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Artists impression of a comet family passing in front of KIC 8462852

KIC 8462852 recently attracted a lot of attention owing to speculation that dramatic dips in the star's lightthat were detected in 2011 and 2013 by NASA's Kepler spacecraftwere due to the presence of vast superstructures created by an advanced alien race. But a new study centering around analysis of data collected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that the mysterious objects occulting the star KIC 8462852 aren't the creations of little green men, but in fact a family of comets.

This alien megastructure theory that recently made news across the globe prompted SETI to task its Allen Telescope Array (ATA) to take readings onthe peculiar star. But so far, the ATA has come upempty, leaving the tantalizing mystery as to the causeof the unusual readings open for debate.

From the outset themajority of the scientific community had stuck to more level ground,instead pointing to possible clouds of debris created from an impactbetween two large bodies, or the presence of comets as the leadingcauses of the occultation.

If the strangeoccultation observed around KIC 8462852 were to be the result ofdebris from colliding planetoids or asteroids passing in front of thestar, then the fragments would be at temperatures that would causethem to emit infrared light. Therefore, the theory could be tested bytaking aim at the star with an infrared telescope.

Previous observationscarried out by Kepler had detected the phenomenon in the visiblelight spectrum, and so to test the collision theory astronomersanalyzed infrared data collected by the Spitzer space telescope,which had by chance taken readings on KIC 8462852 earlier this year.

An analysis of the datafailed to find any excess of infrared light that would point towardplanetary/asteroid debris as the cause of the dimming. This lack ofevidence places the theory that the dimming of light from KIC 8462852was caused by a family of comets traveling in a highly eccentricorbit.

This theory is supportedby the lack of infrared light picked up in the Spitzer data, as, unlike the warmer impact fragments that would result froma collision, the presence of comets would be nigh on impossible todetect.

In order to explain theunusual occultation pattern, astronomers assert that an enormous leadcomet could have been responsible for the original dimming of lightdetected in 2011, while the 2013 event was the result of a swarm oflesser comets following in the giant's wake.

While this seems likethe most likely explanation, the new evidence pointing to the comettheory is far from conclusive, with further observation needed to reveal the source of the occultation.

"We may not know yet what's going on around this star," says Massimo Marengo of Iowa State University who led this latest study. "But that's what makes it so interesting."

A paper on the findingshas been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Source: NASA

9 comments
Li
Bear in mind that Seth Shostack of SETI states quite unequivocally that it was unlikely that any radio signals would be detected from this star, even if there was a megastructure positioned around this star, due to the great distance and relatively unlikelihood that such an advanced culture would still be communicating using unencrypted radio signals.
GlennGoettel
Well, this explanation is not per se exotic. Integrating star development over the number of stars in our Galaxy, it seems well within parameters of what we might expect to find.
JeffKramer
We are so far from these planets, most information presented is just speculation. Still, I find it fascinating to read. If there are other life forms out in space, and I believe there are, to assume they would be using radio waves may be a bit naive.
CharlieSeattle
A massive planetoid or comet that breaks up due to a stars gravity into fairly evenly spaced large bodies is exactly what was observed when Comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with Jupiter.
This should not be considered unusual.
Joe Mamma
Imagine if we only had the same objectivity when it comes to climate change?? We could find out such amazing realities and real facts.
JoeTerrazas
Of course its debris. Because of course we are the only life in the entire 11 universes. Perhaps debris but maybe...just maybe its the other.
ScottBenoit
NASA would not tell us if it was an alien structure.
JackStraww
Comets my butt. Anyone whose read Ringworld knows shadowsquares are what's causing the flickering. Like anything in nature is going to be perfectly evenly spaced.
Raven Bo
By 2025 there will be a computer smart as humans(singularity). Computers will design ever smarter computers and within few decades, smartphone size. This happened in less than 100 years in Earth. Self replicating computer/factory can be made from just about any material including carbon(graphine). At that time,it make sense for computer being to make factory in moon and from there spread to rest of solar system. Similar things should happen in other part of universe. If some smart computer being that can invent smarter computer being, why would they bother with humans lol. Manned space program and searching for aliens are total waste. google "real7777 wordpress" Within 10-20 years, we all want to be a cyborg too. Simple microchip will eliminate wallet, watch, credit card, smart phone, etc. Eventually direct visual link that bypasses the eye. By Tokyo Olympic in 2020, there will be self driving cars on road. Ridiculous liability awards make it impractical in USA for a while.