The search for extraterrestrial intelligence may have got a significant boost. The Kepler space telescope has detected strange light fluctuations coming from a certain star and researchers who discovered the behaviour called it “bizarre.” This has led to speculations that light fluctuations may be caused by a huge megastructure that is orbiting the star.
The Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 to find distant planets which could could possibly support life. It does this observing stars for extended periods of time. When a planet passes in front of a star, the star dims only for a few hours or days and that too on a regular basis. This indicates that the star is being orbited by a planet. However, a star named KIC 8462852 darkens by as much as 20 per cent at regular intervals and for anywhere 5 to 80 days.
The Kepler space telescope
The light pattern suggests that there is a lot of matter that is circling the star in a tight formation which is expected in young stars. When our own solar system was formed billions of years ago, our Sun was also surrounded by dust and debris which were organised into planets by gravity. However, KIC 8462852 is not a young star.
There are of course, other explanations for this unusual light pattern. This includes instrument malfunction, a planetary calamity that created an asteroid belt, or even a close encounter with another star that pulled a bunch of comets close to KIC 8462852. Scientists say, although it is very rare, this is the most likely explanation.
There is also another explanation. Researchers at the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) have suggested that it is possible to detect distant extraterrestrial civilisations by searching for huge technological artifacts orbiting stars, similar to how the Kepler telescope finds planets. Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University is set to publish this alternative interpretation of the light pattern. He along with his co-authors say that KIC 8462852’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures’. It is possible that those structures could be light collectors which are used to collect energy from the star.
If this is true, then the civilization that built the structure would be a Type II Kadashev civilization. The Kardashev Scale is a method for measuring a civilization's technological advancement. The case has three categories: Type I, II, III. A Type I civilization is able to utilise all available resources on its home planet. A Type II civilization can harness the energy of its star, while a Type II would be able to harness the energy of the galaxy. Theoretical Physicist, Micho Kaku believes that human beings will become a Type I civilization in 100 to 200 years.
If we really have discovered signs of intelligent life through the object orbiting KIC 8462852, then contacting them could be bit of a problem. The star is located nearly 1,500 light years away, so getting there will require a lot more than packing an astronaut into a rocket and pointing it in the right direction and since we cannot build a huge solar orbiting satellite around our sun yet, getting them to notice us would be equally tricky.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should start brushing up your alien lingo. Earlier this year, a senior NASA scientist had said then we were going to find alien life in the next 20 to 30 years. Till then, all we can do is sit back and watch sci-fi movies hoping that the intelligent aliens we encounter will come in peace.
Source: The Atlantic
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