Wildlife

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

 

 

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.
  • Bob Coburn

    That’s a pretty amazing theory. Of course, does anyone realize just how much material would be required to build such a large structure, even if most of it was paper-thin? Cannibalizing planets may not even approach the requirements for raw materials that would require… Think about how small planets are relative to stars and how much large in diameter the megastructure would need to be in order not to be burned to a crisp.

  • Bob Coburn

    That’s a pretty amazing theory. Of course, does anyone realize just how much material would be required to build such a large structure, even if most of it was paper-thin? Cannibalizing planets may not even approach the requirements for raw materials that would require… Think about how small planets are relative to stars and how much larger in diameter the megastructure would need to be in order not to be burned to a crisp.

    • Andrew Howley

      Exactly, Bob. That’s where the sci-fi side really takes over. Dyson himself envisioned a network of inhabitable artificial satellites creating a virtual biosphere as opposed to an actual sealed ball capturing all of the energy of a star. That was the work of sci-fi writers.

  • Chrissie Elore

    I don’t know if it was just little satellites, it wouldn’t be big enough to cause the dips in the star. If it is a MEGA structure, big enough to cause dips in the light of a star, we have to assume it took a HUGE amount of materials. I’m not discounting it, I’m just saying that if it is an alien mega structure then they probably have a culture of massive, exploitative consumption.

    • Andrew Howley

      Good point. It certainly wouldn’t be a “less is more” type culture.

  • Christian

    What if, here is the stretch on this one, something you scientists did not even consider, and this is coming from a very spiritual person, what if they are hiding their radio signals? what if they had some alien invasion due to radio signal leakage, and it was what caused the invasion in the first place, and they learned how to hide the signals from other civilizations, we may only be able to see the activity, but they live in complete stealth mode.

  • Josh Ryan

    Yes, true it’d be a lot of material, but a civilization that is that much more developed would have more advanced means of capturing energy. Like some sort of crystallized solar-capture with a 90%+ efficency. Material used to make such crystal-capture could be ored out of common planetary crust. The crust could then be processed by reforming the structure of it’s atoms all together. We can already do this sort of thing with high concentrations of lasers and using atoms to split eachother up or chemicals to swap around electrons and neutrons. Seems farfetched, but look at how far our race has come in terms of technological advanves within the past 60 years. It almost seems unreal itself. So imagine a civilization 1,000 years; even 1,000,000 years ahead of us. Their technology would seem God-Like. They could have millions, billions, even trillions of huge robots that manufacture and build themselves and manage eachother to go out into the universe and salvage materials and build around their sun. I am a skeptic though, but yet i can’t say it isn’t possible, because it is very possible. Especially since 1 out of every 25 suns has a planet in the goldilocks zone. With billions of sons in a galaxy thats at least 40,000,000 planets minimal in our galaxy alone that have some sort of chance at having potential life on them.

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