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KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

Posted October 15, 2015 2:29 PM by Bayes

I came across this article and thought I would share it. It's a pretty amazing situation where the scientists really can't explain the signal. I'm always skeptical of the whole "advanced alien life" signature hypothesis, if only because I assume any advanced alien civilization can easily conceal itself from our technology. But who knows?

Has Kepler Discovered an Alien Megastructure?

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope is tasked with finding small, rocky worlds orbiting distant stars. However, exoplanets aren't the only thing Kepler can detect - stellar flares, star spots and dusty planetary rings can also pop up in the mission's observations. But there's also been speculation that Kepler may have the ability to detect more than natural phenomena; if they're out there, Kepler may also detect the signature of artificial structuresorbiting other stars. Imagine an advanced civilization that's well up on the Kardashev scale and has the ability to harness energy directly from its star. This hypothetical alien civilization may want to construct vast megastructures, like supersized solar arrays in orbit around their host star, that could be so big that they blot out a sizable fraction of starlight as they pass in front.

When Kepler detects an exoplanet, it does so by sensing the very slight dip in starlight from a given star. The premise is simple: an exoplanet orbits in front of star (known as a "transit"), Kepler detects a slight dimming of starlight and creates a "lightcurve" - basically a graph charting the dip in starlight over time. Much information can be gleaned from the lightcurve, such as the physical size of the transiting exoplanet. But it can also deduce the exoplanet's shape.Normally the shape of an exoplanet isn't particularly surprising because it's, well, planet-shaped. It's round. The physics of planetary formation dictate that a planetary body above a certain mass will be governed by hydrostatic equilibrium. But say if Kepler detects something that isn't round.

For the most part, any dip in star brightness can be attributed to some kind of natural phenomenon. But what if all possibilities are accounted for and only one scenario is left? What if that scenario is this object appears to be artificial? In other words, what if it's alien?

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#1

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/15/2015 6:55 PM

Maybe it's a multiple planet, sort of like the earth and moon, but possibly more equal in size.

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#2
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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/15/2015 7:36 PM

The thing is, for it to block that much of the light it would have to be much larger than Jupiter. That sort of planet would give off an IR signal, something they didn't detect. One thing they said it might be is a very large cluster of comets orbiting the star far away from it. They think a passing star could have pulled the comets outward and clustered them. Though they admit that barely is possible and doesn't do a great job explaining what the signal is saying.

If I had to bet, I'd still say it's something natural, but I have no idea what that might be. Either way, it's really interesting!

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#15
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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/19/2015 4:02 PM

So, if these ET's are so big into solar that they have an array as large as a large planet, would not that amount of mass tend to gravitate into a ball just as a planet does?

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#3

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 7:47 AM

It's interesting when we find something that is hard to understand that we apply an explanation that we think makes sense, when in actuality we're making that "explanation" on our limited knowledge at the moment. We revert to guesses that have been presented at earlier times, or based upon philosophical or scientific biases.

"We don't know what we don't know, and some of what we 'know' isn't so."

There is so much of our Universe that we don't understand or comprehend. It is an amazing thing. That applies to the wonderful intricacies of our bodies, nature around us or the vast solar system.

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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 9:17 AM

It's the way science and a lot of other things work, guess and check. It's not random guesses but educated guesses, based on yours and other's knowledge and experience. There's generally no way to go from "effect" back to "cause". You have to try plausible "causes" and see if they produce the desired "effect".

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#6
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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 9:46 AM

"It's interesting when we find something that is hard to understand that we apply an explanation that we think makes sense, when in actuality we're making that "explanation" on our limited knowledge at the moment. We revert to guesses that have been presented at earlier times, or based upon philosophical or scientific biases."

That is the first step of the Scientific Method: "I see something I don't understand, so I will use my existing knowledge and experience to devise a theory that explains it."

The second step is: "I will test that theory to see if it holds up, and to see how well it fits with what I saw."

The third step is: "I will share what I've learned from this with my friends and colleagues so they may test the theory out as well."

Steps 2 & 3 get repeated, endlessly, as the theory is further and further refined.

As a moderately famous astronomer, Neil DeGrasse Tyson(1) one said, "Scientists stand right at the edge of ignorance, balancing on the line between What We Know and What We Don't Know." So, we will always be running into strange things as we try to push that line further and further out, and the first thing we do when we discover something new and unexpected is try to explain it, to fit into out growing body of scientific knowledge.

Notes:

  1. Okay, more than just 'moderately famous,' the mans hitting the scene like the Second Coming of Carl Sagan, appropriate, since Sagan was his teacher and mentor(2).
  2. Don't ask be which one had the better Spaceship of the Imagination, I refuse to make comparisons, too many 'outside variables' from the intervening years.
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#8
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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 11:17 AM

adreasler: I totally agree that the scientific method is making an hypothesis based upon some observations made, and changing that hypoethesis as new information is discovered or presented. Science is certainly trial and error and an ongoing process.

The problem is the interpretation of what those observations are or may mean and being honest in the investigation of those facts.

Global warming and other topics like that are vivid illustrations of what happens when facts are seen and then interpreted to mean a particular thing, i.e. that global warming is man made.

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#10
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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 12:15 PM

That's why we do tests, and make more observations, and have colleagues do tests and make observations. Sometimes the original theories are quite wrong, do to the limited first data.

A quick, silly example:

  • I visit Scotland and see the first black sheep ever in my life.
  • I 'know' sheep are white from past experience, and I know Scotland is famous for peat bogs, and all the images I've seen of peat show it to be as black as coal.
  • I also see that black sheep are rare in the sheep herds.
  • I come up with a theory: "Sheep turn black when they fall into a peat bog, they are rare because not many sheep who fall into a peat bog are rescued in time."
  • I do tests, dipping sheep into peat bogs to see if they turn black, (keeping their heads out of the muck, I don't want to hurt them, just test my theory), and every time, while I can significantly darken the wool, the legs do not change to match the legs of the black sheep.
  • Failing to turn a sheep black by dipping it in the bog, I turn to 'colleagues,' the local sheep farmers. After several apologies about dipping their sheep in the bog for 'no good reason,' I learn about their observations about black sheep, that some sheep are 'just born black.' This leads me to look into genetics, and later to discover that the gene for black wool is recessive, which explains the rarity of black sheep.

If a theory is tested and appears correct, even in just a limited subset of the area it's supposed to explain, then until someone comes up with a theory that can explain all the 'exceptions' to the current theory, then the current theory is 'the best we have so far.' And in fact, every scientific 'theory,' 'fact,' and 'law' we have is 'our best guess so far.'

As to Global Warming/Climate Change, there have been too many politicians muddying the waters and screaming in every direction. Nobody can make a comment one way or the other without being accused of doing so for some political agenda. So I will remain silent on that topic.

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#5

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 9:40 AM

I would give no credence to a theory that a civilization could cause a star to dim 22%. Even if they could, why would they? It's almost certainly natural.

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#7

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 10:50 AM

Okay based on scientific principles, knowledge we have accumulated, and previous experiences, it is obvious that a giant Death Star is orbiting in that solar system. The Empire is striking back.

Guess I just placed a vote for alien life megastructure.

Maybe we shouldn't try for serious discussions on "Caption This" day.

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#9

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 11:58 AM

Not an astronomer by any means, but what else, other than solid objects, could affect light waves? Electrical masses (like a force field of some sort?). Compressed dark matter? Just throwing stuff out as outliers, to learn from those with much more knowlege in the area. Thanks.

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#11

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 7:06 PM

Perhaps the explanation is more mundane: the same dimming could be caused by a Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud collection of rocks and ice. Both the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud are much closer to the Kepler spacecraft than the star is, so therefore a relatively small object, or cluster of objects, being closer, would subtend the same angle as a huge distant object.

And since the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud objects are far from our Sun, they would be very cold and not have any significant thermal signature.

As seen from the Earth Cygnus is not near the ecliptic, where Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud objects are more likely to be found. Which counts against this explanation. But not all solar system objects lie within the ecliptic region. So the idea is not ruled out. I don't know the orbital orientation of the spacecraft - perhaps from its vantage point there may be deep solar system objects between it and this star.

(Actually, the Oort Cloud is more widely distributed than he Kuiper Belt; it is not just near the Ecliptic.)

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#12

Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/16/2015 11:02 PM

Yes an interesting article. Doing a little research on nuclear fusion a while back, I found that as we progress up the period table that energy stops radiating when plasma starts fusing into iron atoms and starts importing energy, photons, so is the star at a stage in its life cycle that it is fusing into some of the heavier elements, and would that fusion be occurring on its surface?

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#13
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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/18/2015 11:36 AM

My understanding is that the endothermic reactions that form iron and heavier elements only occur during a supernova explosion where there is a huge surplus of energy available.

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Re: KIC 8462852 - Advanced Alien Life or Just Some Comets?

10/18/2015 5:10 PM

Yes I agree, I realised later that the composition of the star's elements can be deduced from observations.

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