Video: That’s No Moon. It’s Aliens. (Maybe.)

A long time ago, around a star far, far away …

EPISODE I

Beams of light stream out of a gigantic ball of burning gas and plasma called KIC 8462852. Racing in every direction, they carry energy from this one central point out to every corner of the universe.

Some dodge planets, ice, dust, gas, and even other stars and reach the sensors of the Kepler Space Telescope.

Others have their journey cut short and create a telltale dip in the brightness of their home star, an anomaly detected by Kepler-watching citizen scientists here on Sol 3, commonly referred to as “Earth,” 1,465 years later.

Familiar with such dips, the small band of space observers expects to see a regularly repeating decrease in brightness occurring at predictable intervals. Such would be the signal of a planet revolving around this distant star. But expectations have no effect upon the nature of our galaxy. Defying the Earthlings’ presumption of understanding, the dips change degree and frequency and induce puzzled stares into computer screens around the world.

Unbound by the restrictive thought control of any presently ruling Galactic Empire, scientists and science-fiction fans alike give free rein to their analytic powers and announce that there is one unlikely but hard-to-disprove explanation for such an anomaly: the space program of other life-forms.

EPISODE II

Tabetha Boyajian of Yale University and her small band of astronomers have produced their official paper positing a cloud of comets as the most likely natural source of the unusual dip in brightness registered from KIC 8462852. The door is now open for other theories to enter the fray.

Three hundred miles away, Jason Wright, a Penn State astronomer, and colleagues have published a separate paper describing the ways the people of Earth could detect life on other planets. Following the teachings of Freeman Dyson, an old master of math and physics, the team says there would be telltale differences between the dips in brightness of a star produced by natural satellites and those resulting from an array of artificial structures built by a technologically advanced civilization.

The timing of the two papers is no coincidence. Jason and Tabetha are working together. And they have a plan.

Armed with Dyson’s 55-year-old theoretical plans for orbiting space structures capable of harvesting vast amounts of a star’s energy to power a technologically dependent civilization, the somewhat rebellious alliance contacts the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. They request that some of Earth’s most powerful telescopes be directed at KIC 8462852 to look and listen for signs that the objects blocking the light from this distant star are not mere natural rocks and ice but artificial structures whirring with electromagnetic energy or using radio waves for communication.

The people of Earth hold their breath.

NEXT: Searching for Signs of Life With Kevin Hand

 

 

Wildlife

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Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.