Star KIC 8462852 hints at alien civilization

Scientists scramble at the possibility of technology beyond Earth

Artist’s depiction of a Dyson Sphere or layered energy capture arrangement. Advanced civilizations might use such technology to capture all the energy of their star by surrounding it by their equivalent of high-tech solar panels.

Once upon a time, this would have been considered news from the tinfoil hat crowd. ET, UFOs and other mad rantings which sensible people discount as the effects of too much fluoride in our nation’s water.

Today, reputable scientists are turning telescopes, radio receiver arrays and just about any other technology towards the star KIC8462852, which might reveal what they currently cannot explain: the possibility of technology vastly beyond our own… not just an exoplanet, but an alien megastructure.

Bob Singer, a project manager at NASA, says:

What makes KIC 8462852 such a strange star to study is that not only are there way more dips of brightness than expected, these dips are highly irregular. There’s no periodic orbiting going on here, just a bunch of strange, light-blocking shapes with no discernible pattern to them.
And these dimming effects are significant. Scientists are reporting that at one point, the amount of starlight dropped by 15 percent, and then at another, 22 percent. And this tells us a whole lot, says Plait:

From where I sit as a science enthusiast, it’s still impossible to know anything for certain. It’s most probably nothing, but it also could be proof of something astounding… something which resonates with humanity as a whole.

I Want to Believe

Don’t take this the wrong way. I would love for there to be the remnants of an ancient civilization, long dead, whose sorrowful fragments orbit a lonely F-type main-sequence star in a solar system which may have formed about the same time as our Sun.

At the same time, no one wants to know for sure whether something alien lurks at KIC 8462852; we want it to stay an unexplained mystery surrounded by a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.

It would be amazing for a civilization over 1481 light years from Earth to have advanced so far they could create megastructures whose broken pieces could be detected nearly fifteen hundred light years away. Even more amazing would be that from the scattered pieces of said megastructure (an object whose size would have to be larger than the Earth) could still be circling the star in such a way that the uneven light from its various pieces would block starlight in a manner different from the way we expect an exoplanet to.

But here’s where it get’s dicey:

  • A civilization whose planet-sized megastructure may have existed for at least 1481 years because that is how long it would have taken the light from the structure, in its currently less-than-ideal state, to reach us.
  • Why do I say less than ideal? Because if it were an actual functioning, high quality, completely light-absorbing Dyson sphere, capable of capturing every photon of energy from the star… we would have never seen it.
  • A functioning Dyson Sphere would have little or no signature we could detect, designed to capture every bit of energy from the star, especially from this distance.
  • If we assume an intelligent species has created this object, the object is either early in its construction and thus highly irregular in its display of light due to being incomplete, or we have discovered it after said civilization has unfortunately ended and their project has begun to destabilize.

Scientists Make a Collective Gasp

Regardless of this being truly a thing and not an anomaly (as most such finds turn out to be), the ramifications are profound and astounding. Odds are, with longer study, we will discern a periodic movement to these fragments and determine them to be natural objects, possibly remnants of giant planets or immense objects left over from the formation of that star system.

Or possibly a rogue body such as a wandering star or other highly massive body, destabilized and destroyed by that star system centuries ago. The alternative is too astounding to believe, and thus scientists will be working around the clock to determine the truth.

An artist’s depiction of a civilization capturing the dwarf partner of their parent star to use as fuel. They are cannibalizing a nearby planet to build their Dyson Sphere.

If this is indeed an alien megastructure:

  • This means, on a planet of barely-civilized, information-age primates, whose forays into the Universe have been halting, tentative and often clumsy affairs, we have looked into the heavens for signs of life. And now, without any true ability to confirm much of anything, an uneven display of light gives us hope and maybe a little fear.
  • Hope that somewhere in the Universe, 1481 years ago, another group of intrepid explorers somehow managed to conquer their own species’ urge for competition and domination, and turn those energies toward collective cooperation and their conquest of space.
  • Hope that this alien species could not only develop a space program, but also manage to create such a program that they were able to — potentially willing and whose technological sophistication would make them a Type II civilization — capable of building an object or series of objects which might allow them to capture the entire energy output of their sun!
  • This highly intelligent, technically sophisticated species had already faced the challenges we have faced: the harsh environment of space, escaping the gravity well, moving materials into space, altering the landscape of our own planet(s), literally distilling those planetary bodies into a project larger than the star they were born under.
  • These creatures had technology which altered the shape and structure of matter, were already capable of splitting the atom or carrying out some other equally energetic reaction, and made space their home as easily as we move to a new city in search of work. Space was as safe to them as living on planet Earth is to us.

Looking Skyward with Hope and Fear

On a planet of unhappy primates with so many problems, some with very pressing time limits, such a discovery would be akin to the discovery and taming of fire. We would experience a transformation of thought and possibilities undreamed of before, where the rules and limitations we have placed on ourselves would fall away. Our belief in being the center of the universe will have been snatched away with certainty. Others, whose abilities dwarf our own, would exist.

Not because we would have become enlightened. No, something more primitive and visceral. We’d finally know somewhere, someone, a sentience alike, yet not like our own, had considered and done something still as far beyond us, as an iPod is beyond a Neanderthal’s ability to create. These aliens would prove it was possible to do something we consider science fiction, not science fact.

We would know beyond a shadow of a doubt the Universe is not only not empty, but instead potentially filled with species as inventive, adaptive, creative and ambitious as we like to think we are. But more capable. They started building something that was a scientific impossibility for us, 1481 years ago. When the fall of Rome was taking place in 534 AD, these aliens were already building the impossible.

Or more terrifying: they finished and died out millions of years ago and their perfect system was in the final stages of collapse when we detected it. Both are sobering thoughts capable of keeping wise men and women up at night: fear and wonder, two of the reasons humanity hasn’t stopped evolving yet.

Just when we thought we were the most sophisticated life-form to ever exist, comes the possibility we are just one of many; a real concrete possibility. Just how much of what we know about ourselves, the Universe at large, and our place in the scheme of things may be revealed in the next few years if the hastily named star KIC 8462852 turns out to be our first true discovery of technology vastly superior to our own.

Now our world’s technology turns an ear toward space to confirm what our optical telescopes are telling us. All hailing frequencies are open…

A radio telescope array designed to collect electromagnetic information outside of the visible spectrum. Such technology could be used to listen for the potential of information-bearing radiation used for communication by alien species.
The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is a radio astronomy observatory located on the Plains of San Agustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, some 50 miles (80 km) west of Socorro, New Mexico. It comprises 27, 25-meter radio telescopes in a Y-shaped array and all the equipment, instrumentation, and computing power to function as an interferometer. Each of the massive telescopes is mounted on double parallel railroad tracks, so the radius and density of the array can be transformed to focus on particular bands of wavelength.

Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration and IT leadership.

His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.

Thaddeus is a popular and well-read writer on the Q&A site Quora.com in over fifty subjects. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over a thirteen hundred articles in a four year period.

He is an author and contributor at Scifiideas.com. His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium.com, the Magill Review, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here. He also maintains a wide collection of his writing and editing work on Medium.com.