The Kepler Space Telescope captures many stunning images of deep space, but something that crossed in front of its lens recently is leaving scientists absolutely baffled.
They’re calling it KIC 8462852, which is a fancy name for an extremely unusual star. What makes it strange is that the amount of light ol’ KIC emits dips and grows stronger from time to time. Normally, this kind of occurrence could signify the existence of a planet, slowly revolving around the star and casting a shadow. But this light pattern wasn’t like others that had been observed.
“We’d never seen anything like this star,” Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc 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.”
Instead, they found that the patterns suggest that there’s a big mass of something circling the star. First researchers thought the star might just be young, as they tend to have more debris circling them before they mature. But KIC 8462852 fits the description of an older star, so that can’t be right.
Intrigued, Boyajian eventually wrote a paper on other possible explanations for the star’s behaviour, but it only included “natural scenarios.” When she sent her data to fellow astronomer Jason Wright from Penn State University, however, Wright’s jaw almost hit the floor.
“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright said. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
Wright believes whatever massive object is circling the star could be a “swarm of megastructures” designed to capture energy from it. For what it’s worth, Boyajian also believes aliens could be a plausible explanation, according to the Washington Post.
But before you go and tell all your friends we’ve found aliens, keep in mind this is still just a hypothesis. Wright cautioned Slate that people looking over the new findings should “approach [them] skeptically.”
That said, however, it’s a pretty strong hypothesis. Whatever is causing the wonky light show on KIC 8462852 is about half the size of the star (which means it would have to be absolutely gigantic). The blips of flickering light the star emits, meanwhile, don’t seem to follow any pattern, while the actual amount of light lost or gained each time is both significant and random as well.
Whatever the case, scientists are sure of one thing: Something strange is going on with KIC 8462852.