KIC 8462852: The Most Interesting Star In The World

There have been a few articles going around about a star with a very odd signature. Like most things in space, it is likely some kind of phenomenon that we have just not figured out yet... but it could be an alien civilization which has grown to the point of actually obscuring some of the light of the sun around which it orbits.

The original Atlantic article, like many Atlantic articles, is well worth the read.

This is the teaser:
“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Here's why people are so interested. Unlike all of our Sci-Fi ideas about alien civilizations, they are more likely to stay in one close area than wander the stars. Wandering about is both extremely costly (in resources sense, whatever their "economy" looks like) and takes a really long time, splitting part of a civilization off from the rest. What is more likely is that a civilization would move ever closer to capturing all off the light from their star. Eventually, you would build what is called a Dyson Sphere:



A Dyson Sphere makes a lot of sense. You take all of the material you can, and you spread it around your sun in order to build a gigantic solar powered and heated sphere. The population you could support would be immense. This is construction on a scale millennia beyond where humanity is now.

If a civilization completed this, we would see a waste heat signature: while all light would be captured, long wavelength IR radiation would escape. We have looked for this, but in area of the roughly 160,000 stars near enough for us to detect, we couldn't find it.

But now, we've found KIC 8462852. And it could be a civilization on their way to building a Dyson sphere - enough structures around their sun to block out a significant portion of the light. This is a mature star, 1.5x the size of ours, so it shouldn't have a waste cloud around it as an early start would. It also has a very interesting IR signature.

The only other rational explanation seems to be a whole mess o' meteors getting pulled in front of it by the passing of another star as a tugboat. There is a candidate for this, but for a variety of reasons it is seen as unlikely. Not that an alien civilization is more likely.... but damn would it be amazing.

We are going to try and find out more by pointing the Arecibo telescope (think Goldeneye or Contact) at it to see if we can find any interesting radio signatures. I for one think it would be a huge benefit to mankind to discover that we are not alone in the universe.

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