Launched in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope has been scanning stars in the Milky Way for exoplanets.
It uses a method known as light dipping. The telescope points at a star for an extended period of time, and sees if the light from it ever dims. The dip in light, if it occurs, could come from a planet passing through Kepler’s field of view, blocking the light from the star.
That how it has found approximately 150,000 planets orbiting stars near us.
One now is confounding the shit out of scientists. Instead of seeing a little bit of light being blocked, Kepler is seeing A LOT. An unexplainable amount. Via The Atlantic:
The light pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation. That would be expected if the star were young. When our solar system first formed, four and a half billion years ago, a messy disk of dust and debris surrounded the sun, before gravity organized it into planets, and rings of rock and ice.
But this unusual star isn’t young. If it were young, it would be surrounded by dust that would give off extra infrared light. There doesn’t seem to be an excess of infrared light around this star.
The best minds looking at the star are stumped. Said Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc at Yale studying Kepler data, “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.”
There are really only two reasonable explanations. One is that the star recently sucked in a bunch of comets, and those are swirling around it.
Then there’s the other.
Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.
Yeaaaaah buddy. Like a Dyson Sphere, which is what scientists hypothesize civilizations need to capture all their star’s energy.
Wright thinks there’s good enough reason to investigate it.
Boyajian is now working with Wright and Andrew Siemion, the Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The three of them are writing up a proposal. They want to point a massive radio dish at the unusual star, to see if it emits radio waves at frequencies associated with technological activity.
If their proposal goes through, we may be scouring this star system by January.
[Via The Atlantic]