Have scientists found megastructures in space?
A new discovery regarding anomalous brightness frequencies in KIC 8462852 has scientists cautiously declaring they may have found a star system that harbors advanced extraterrestrial life forms. These life forms may have built megastructures, ostensibly to harness solar energy.
Lead author of the study, Tabetha Boyajian, says his group has been looking for alternate explanations since 2011, when “citizen scientists” flagged the star as exceedingly bizarre. Currently, it experiences dips in brightness up to 22%, which could not be the result of a passing exoplanet. Usually, this kind of unexplained activity is the result of a displaced mass of detritus formed within a new star system before gravity has had time to condense or absorb it. But, KIC 8462852, located between between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, is not a new star.
Scientists have also considered that the dips may be caused by debris from a planetary collision. However, they would also expect this kind of collision to produce excess infrared light, which hasn’t been detected. Another explanation involves orbiting comets, but comets virtually never create such drastic changes in light emission.
The absence of any conventional explanation led Tabetha to a more unorthodox line of reasoning: what if the anomalous blockage of light is caused by a Dyson sphere, or more accurately, a Dyson swarm of smaller megastructures? Imagine the halfway reconstructed Death Star divided into a vast panoply of enormous solar panels channeling energy to a nearby planet.
Jason Wright is an astronomer from Penn State University who will soon be publishing a full report of the findings.
“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilisation to build. I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright said.
He goes on to say that the pattern and behavior of the objects look like a “swarm of megastructures.”
This would fall in line with a recent theory by Clément Vidal, who suggests that irregular energy flows from certain stars may be evidence of Kardashev Type II or III civilizations. Vidal calls these “starivores,” as they are feeding on the energy of their parent stars. He wrote a Ph.D. thesis on it that suggests the Milky Way Galaxy alone may contain around 2,000 starivores.
The next step, according to Tabetha, is to get NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) involved to search for radio signals emanating from the star, located 1,456 light years away. However, Wright doesn’t seem confident this will necessarily yield a convenient answer, as previous efforts by SETI to pick up on alien chatter have left us with a universe that seems inexplicably devoid of intelligent life.
In fact, one of the great mysteries in science — particularly in astrobiology, which is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe — is the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox articulates a question asked by many scientists: if advanced extraterrestrial life exists in the universe in abundant numbers — as the Drake Equation suggests — why haven’t we received any messages, signals, or transmissions from them? This is known as the Great Silence, and it continues to confound a great many thinkers.
Though Edward Snowden recently offered an interesting explanation to the conundrum — that aliens may be encrypting their messages — the fact remains that despite tireless efforts by SETI and innovative new approaches to the search for advanced alien life (for example, Kardashev Type II civilizations, which would need to harness almost incomprehensible amounts of solar energy), we still have yet to make contact with ET.
And we don’t know why. If the Milky Way Galaxy alone contains hundreds of thousands of advanced civilizations, as Carl Sagan and Dr. Frank Drake believe, it’s hard to fathom that not a single transmission has slipped through.
However, more than a few scientists have acknowledged that part of the problem derives from our human-centric approach to conceptualizing intelligent alien life. We assume that we will understand the transmissions, that an advanced extraterrestrial message would necessarily constitute a form we even recognize as communication. The reality is that aliens who have evolved for millions, even billions of years, may be so far advanced that discerning their signals in the vast darkness of space may be no more viable than an ant understanding one of our tweets.
Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, and Seth Shostak, director of SETI, recently put forth a surprisingly pervasive idea that intelligent alien life in the universe is likely to be artificial super intelligence.
This is one potential solution to the Fermi Paradox because it may resolve the issue of the vast timeline where a biological civilization would be able to evolve and send messages out into space. That some biological species may stagnate in a relative dearth of technology — rendering them incapable of producing even an atmospheric “hairspray” that we could detect — while others quickly ascend to Singularity-like advanced intelligence indicates that the Great Silence actually makes sense. Essentially, either the alien species never reaches the state we’re at, which includes the capability of sending out radio signals, or they reach such an advanced state in such a small window of time that they become incoherent and incomprehensible to us in a geological instant.
Is the star KIC 8462852 our very first glimpse of Kardashev Type II advanced artificial superintelligence wielding Dyson spheres (say that five times fast) to control the energy of its own sun? We may soon know… or we may never.
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