A new study from Iowa State suggests that the 'alien megastructure' orbiting a distant star may have a much more realistic explanation.
We reported earlier that researchers had detected strange dimming phenomenon surrounding a distant star named KIC 8462852, sparking speculation that a massive ‘alien megastructure’ could be responsible for blocking the sun’s light. According to a report from Popular Science, however, researchers from the University of Iowa may have come up with a much more reasonable explanation.
Researchers combing through the data from the now-defunct Kepler Telescope noticed something strange; a rhythmic flickering in fro not KIC 8462852 that led them to believe that there was a massive, oddly shaped structure orbiting the sun and periodically blocking its light from reaching the telescope.
Theories arose of a massive structure that was deliberately set in the star’s orbital path by some form of intelligent life, but at the time of the finding there was little evidence to suggest what was actually causing the flickering. Researchers from the Iowa State have followed up, studying the star once more with the Spitzer telescope.
The study, which is to be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, shows that conspiracy theorists may have been jumping the gun. Their explanation is much simpler; a planetary explosion deposited large amounts of infrared light and debris that began orbiting the sun. The fragments would be at a temperature that emits infrared wavelengths, which would explain the blockage of light coming from the star.
This hypothesis was tested as the researchers used the Spitzer telescope to search for evidence of infrared light. Despite their best efforts, however, they found none. Further follow up will be necessary, as the Kepler observations were taken in 2011. If the orbital path of whatever is blocking the light is long enough, the debris may simply have been on the backside of the star when Spitzer focused on it.
Researchers also used the Allen Telescope Array to search for radio signals coming from the star to listen for any potential evidence of intelligent life. Though their search came up empty, they believe they are on the right track to solving the mystery of star KIC 8462852.
A press release from Iowa State outlining the details of the study can be found here.