A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about a strange star, KIC 8462852, which was found to be exhibiting strange light fluctuations (including dips in output as much as 20 percent), prompting some of the more, ahem, imaginative researchers to cry alien—or, alien megastructure to be exact.
Because surely the inexplicable flickering should be attributed to the obstructive presence of some real-life Death Star.
(Interestingly, I wrote the original story on the day the final Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer debuted; today, I would like to note that the international trailer has gone viral, and it includes even more footage than its two-week predecessor.)
To get to the bottom of the astronomical mystery, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researchers utilized the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in California’s Cascade Mountains, pointing its 42 six-meter antennas in the direction of KIC 84628452, in order to sniff out any radio signals potentially emanating from the star between 1 and 10 GHz—the kind of high-powered “hailing signal” an alien civilization might broadcast to say hello.
Unfortunately for SETI researchers, Star Wars fans, and members of the creepy, pro-alien invasion cult in Independence Day, the ATA has detected no sign of extraterrestrial life.
So far, the antennas have picked up no trace of signals in the frequency range, either as narrow-band or broad-band signals.
But SETI researchers don’t seem to want to go down without a fight.
In Friday’s statement, SETI Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak wrote:
“It might be that we missed out because our measures were not sensitive enough. Even if the putative inhabitants of KIC 8462852 were deliberately sending a narrow-band hailing signal, their transmitter would need to be a 100 thousand-trillion watt beast for us to hear it. This star system is very far away, remember.
The required power is obviously high if the signal is broadcast equally in all directions. But on the other hand, if the aliens had some inclination to target their broadcast in our direction, the required transmitter power would be enormously lower.”
But alas, chances are there is no planet-sized Dyson sphere, no interstellar alien construction zone at work in KIC’s corner of the galaxy.
Even so—little green men may have been relegated to the theoretical chopping block, but researchers still can’t be sure why the Kepler star is behaving so erratically. Safe to say, whatever is causing its strange behavior, aliens or not, will prove fascinating.