Reports that a mysterious star could have been dimming due to the efforts of an alien race made headlines last month, though now researchers say extraterrestrials are probably not to blame. At least, are far as we can prove at this point.
Scientists determined the star KIC 8462852 was periodically dimming by 20 percent or more, which is a weirdly unnatural way for a star to act. One potential cause for that behavior was alien intervention (i.e. a high-tech system to siphon power from the star), so the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) started looking a bit closer for clues.
Now the preliminary report has been released — turns out there’s no immediate indication that aliens are to blame. Le sigh. Researchers at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., have been working with the Allen Telescope Array the past two weeks to try and pick up any radio signals or signals that could indicate intelligent life in that area. So far, nada.
"The history of astronomy tells us that, every time we thought we had found a phenomenon due to the activities of extraterrestrials, we were wrong," SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak said in a statement. "But although it's quite likely that this star's strange behavior is due to nature, not aliens, it's only prudent to check things out."
Of course, it could still be aliens — they just might be using signals too weak (or too weird) for us to intercept. But this makes the odds a lot longer. So, since it’s probably not aliens, scientists are turning to some other potential explanations. One leading theory for the strange dimming is that a swarm of comets are orbiting the star and blocking its light (since it doesn’t match up with a typical orbit block, that could fit).
The search continues.