In October of this year, the media kind of lost its mind (that happens from time to time).
It all began when the Atlantic published an article on strange lights surrounding a rather unique star, KIC 8462852. Unluckily, that wonderful article about a bizarre and interesting star got turned into these gems: Has Kepler found an Alien Megastructure? Have we discovered Megastructures Built by Aliens Around a Distant Star?
Since, of course, it’s only valued science if you can make aliens the focal point. And (spoiler alert!) researchers were pretty sure from the start that it was not aliens, so those titles are asking rather silly questions with a rather simple answer – No.
When the story came out, we made it abundantly clear that the strange properties of this star were (perhaps) most definitely not due to aliens. As our initial report states, “You don’t feel a breeze and go, ‘Ah! Must be ghosts!’ You get up and close the window. Likewise, you don’t see some unpredicted dimming in a star and go, ‘Researchers found aliens!’ You look to all the other (far more likely) situations first. And sure, tell people about the wilder hypotheses, but here’s the thing: That should come after the sound science.”
And unsurprisingly, all of our following observations (from SETI, NASA, etc.) have revealed that the unique lights are triggered by things that are much more mundane than aliens.
Numerous probable explanations for the star’s unusual and inconsistent levels of brightness have been raised. These include an asteroid belt collision, a giant impact on an exoplanet, or a dusty cloud of rock and debris. Some researchers even considered if a Dyson sphere built by an advanced alien civilization was the cause, and they used SETI telescopes to check this hypothesis (that’s where all the media exaggeration came from).
Another suggestion by scientists from Yale University proposes that a family of comets is the most possible explanation. A new study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope finds more proof that the mystery surrounding the star may actually involve a swarm of extrasolar comets.
The astrophysicists looked at two different infrared wavelengths: The shorter was consistent with a typical star and the longer showed some infrared discharges, but not enough to reach a detection threshold. From the observations, it was decided that there was no excess in infrared discharges.
So what does this mean?
It means that there are no signs of an asteroid belt collision, a giant impact on an exoplanet, or a dusty cloud of rock and debris. Thus, this leaves astrophysicists with the destruction of a family of comets near the star. It appears that KIC 8462852’s light may be affected by a big debris cloud of comet fragments coming in rapidly at a steep, elliptical orbit. This cloud should move off, restoring the star’s brightness and leaving no trace of excess infrared light.
Studies on KIC 8462852 are still underway to conclusively settle this “mystery.”
This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the writer write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Facebook