SETI to Investigate KIC 8462852 with Allen Telescope Array

Posted on October 20, 2015

Allen Telescope Array

SETI is going to point its Allen Telescope Array (ATA) at KIC 8462852. The star is located in the constellation Cygnus. Data from the Kepler telescope indicates the light around KIC 8462852 flickers in an unusual and irregular pattern that astronomers cannot yet easily explain.

Time writes, "The light flickers alright, but irregularly and at different intensities, almost as if the star is being orbited not by an exoplanet or orderly procession of exoplanets, but by a mass of debris of different sizes, speeds and orbital inclinations."

There are potential natural explanations for the dimming events observed in the star by NASA's Kepler space telescope. It could be some sort of cosmic collision between planets and asteroids happening around the star or there could a swarm of comets. The star could have an unusual circumstellar disk where collisions are still happening. We have not observed every possible natural phenomenon there is to observe and this may explain why astronomers can't come up with a working theory to explain the dimming pattern around the star.

The Internet has been buzzing about the star ever since it was discovered to have an unusual light pattern that can't be easily explained with current theories. A research paper about the star entitled "Where's the Flux" was published with Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctoral student at Yale, as the lead author.

Boyajian told The Atlantic, "We'd never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out."

The discovery was made by users of Planet Hunters project. An alien theory that has people excited is the possibility there is a Dyson Sphere around this star - an alien structure used by the alien civilization to harness a star's energy.

SETI wrote in a Google+ entry, "Star KIC 8462852 is in the news. Its dimming might be due to alien constructions. Hang tight: The Allen Telescope Array is looking."

The Dyson Sphere theory is very speculative but there is no harm in that. No one knows the extent to which alien civilizations may populate the universe - if they exist at all - so the speculation is understandable. Most of the unexplainable discoveries made with telescopes - such as this star's light patterns - are going to end up having a non-extraterrestrial scientific explanation.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI, tells Space.com, "We are looking at it with the Allen Telescope Array. No problem with that; I think we ought to, for sure." Shostak also said he thinks people "should perhaps moderate their enthusiasm with the lessons of history." Shostak noted that some scientists first interpreted pulsars as possible alien transmissions.

If there truly is intelligent life out there then one of these days we should run across something like a Dyson Sphere where alien life is the only possible explanation. Even if we find what appears to be a star with an alien civilization it will probably take much debate over years or even decades before there is even widespread agreement that such as a star is home to an intelligent alien civilization.

Image: SETI