‘Alien Megastructure’ is Almost Certainly Just Pockets of Dust

The hits keep on coming for those who were hoping that humanity had found some kind of “alien megastructure” orbiting the star KIC 8462852, a.k.a. “Tabby’s Star,” in the constellation Cygnus. It turns out that instead of some kind of unimaginably colossal structure surrounding the star, a new report finds that it’s probably just pockets of dust. Which kind of sounds like an explanation the MIB would devise, but that fact notwithstanding, we can more than likely put this particular case of possible extraterrestrial life to bed.

New Scientist reported on the findings, which were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters by Tabetha Boyajian at Louisiana State University, et al. The research, which seems to be the final nail in the coffin for the alien megastructure theory, finds that the significant, oddly intermittent dimming of the star’s light does not happen across all wavelengths, but only certain ones. This seems to rule out a solid, opaque structure causing the diminished light at irregular intervals, as that kind of object would dim light across all wavelengths.

The theory of the alien megastructure arose in 2015, when, on the heels of Dr. Boyajian and her team’s discovery of the star’s sporadic dimming light, people began to propose ideas for what could possibly cause such a phenomenon. Planets surrounding the star were ruled out as they would’ve caused diminished light at regular intervals. And because, well, aliens, immediately the idea of some kind of partial Dyson sphere was proposed as an explanation. (A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical energy collection device that could be built around a star to absorb its light and heat output—a sort of enormous shell of super-efficient solar panels that could be used to power advanced civilizations.)

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That theory soon began to fall apart however, as some scientists started to point to flawed data collection as an explanation for the star’s unique dimming patterns. Then, late last year, observations analyzed from NASA’s Spitzer and Swift telescopes seemed to point to dust as a cause for the dimming.
“The dimming of the star over long periods appears to be weaker at longer infrared wavelengths of light and stronger at shorter ultraviolet wavelengths,” NASA noted in a post. “Such reddening is characteristic of dust particles and inconsistent with more fanciful ‘alien megastructure’ concepts, which would evenly dim all wavelengths of light.” This latest round of observations, which was led by Boyajian, but included the help of over 100 researchers and $100,000 in crowdfunded financing, seems to buttress NASA’s conclusion. Which means Dyson spheres will have to remain in the realm of sci-fi for now.


What do you think about this latest knock to the Tabby’s star alien megastructure theory? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

Featured Image:  NASA / JPL 

Image: Kevin Gill

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