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Lots of Signals From Space Seem Like Aliens

Last week, astronomers—amateur and pro—got excited about some strange results from the Kepler Space Telescope, the NASA observatory tasked with searching for Earth-like planets. As those planets orbit their own distant suns, periodically blocking light from Kepler’s view, the telescope documents the flickers. But over the last several years, it has picked up a strange pattern of blips from one star in particular, KIC 8462852.

Light from that star dramatically plunges in irregular intervals—not the consistent pattern you’d expect from an orbiting planet. But what could possibly cause such a thing? Gotta be aliens, right? Clearly someone—something—has assembled a megastructure around its sun, like that hollow Celestial head in Guardians of the Galaxy. Or maybe it’s a solar array, collecting energy-giving radiation and preventing light from reaching NASA’s telescope.

The internet was abuzz with the news of a mysterious object orbiting a distant star 1,500 light-years away that was blocking a huge amount of its light. With no obvious candidate for what the object could be, one scientist suggested the very faint possibility that it could be artificial in nature – yes, made by aliens.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build,” Jason Wright, an astrophysicist from Pennsylvania State University, told The Atlantic. Wright wasn't directly involved in the study, which has been published in Arxiv, but made his comments after discussing the findings with lead author Tabetha Boyajian. Is he right, and if so, what could it be?

This, of course, is almost certainly poppycock. When you’re searching the vast expanse of space, lots of things look like they could be signs of extraterrestrial life. Astronomical observers are constantly looking for tiny glimmers of information in the mess of noise that streams through space toward Earth, and often, things that at first look like signals end up being mirages.

Perhaps it could also be some other type of alien structure. The possibility has tantalised the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in California enough to take a closer look at the star with the Allen Telescope Array as of today. We’ll have to wait and see if they find anything.

But this is all very unlikely. We’re definitely not suggesting for certain this is some kind of alien technology. Indeed, similar speculation occurred in the past when pulsars – rapidly rotating neutron stars – were discovered and mistaken for possible signs of artificial intelligence. Their existence had not previously been theorized; perhaps this latest discovery is, too, a new natural phenomenon.

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