New Study Shows That "Alien Dyson Sphere" Is Most Likely a Cloud of Comets

Monday, 30 November 2015 - 2:14PM
Astrophysics
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Monday, 30 November 2015 - 2:14PM
New Study Shows That "Alien Dyson Sphere" Is Most Likely a Cloud of Comets
Last month, astronomers detected a bizarre light pattern emitting from a star in a faraway galaxy that seemed to defy explanation, leading some scientists to speculate about an extraterrestrial Dyson sphere. Now, a new study indicates that the strange asymmetrical dimming is the result of a slightly more mundane phenomenon: a family of circling comets.

The star, called KIC 8462852, experiences dips in its brightness, which is nothing unusual on its own. The Kepler Space Telescope has found thousands of exoplanets by observing their transits across neighboring stars, which causes their brightness to dim briefly. However, the dips are too extreme and too erratic to be the result of run-of-the-mill transiting exoplanets. A transit usually causes a star's brightness to dim by less than one percent, and on a periodic basis, as the exoplanet orbits the star regularly. But this star has experienced huge dips in brightness, up to 22%, which simply could not be the result of a planet, and it doesn't seem to be occurring on any kind of cyclical basis.

There are several potential explanations for this phenomenon, including circling comets, a massive planetary collision, or, yes, a partially constructed alien megastructure around the star. The new study, published this month in Astrophysical Journal Letters, claims that the a family of orbiting comets is the most plausible explanation, as there is no sign of a massive planetary or asteroid collision that would leave other types of light-blocking debris. If there had been such a collision, according to the authors, there would be plenty of dust and debris that would appear to us as excess infrared emissions, and the data has not shown any excess infrared light.

Opening quote
"The lack of strong infrared excess 2 years after the events responsible for the unusual light curve observed by Kepler further disfavors the scenarios involving a catastrophic collision in a KIC 8462852 asteroid belt, a giant impact disrupting a planet in the system or a population of dust-enshrouded planetesimals," Marengo and his colleagues wrote.
Closing quote

Since they have eliminated many of the most plausible theories, the authors concluded that a cloud of comets is the most likely explanation. To be fair, they admit that they didn't particularly look for signs that there could be an alien Dyson sphere, for which the investigation is still underway

"We didn't look for that," Marengo said in a statement. "We can't really say it is, or is not. But what the star is doing is very strange. It's interesting when you have phenomena like that - typically it means there's some new physical explanation or a new concept to be discovered."

Via Space.com.
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