Interesting Theories Emerge About What's Blocking Star KIC 8462852

January 16th 2016

Kylie Cheung

A few months ago, the discovery of strange light patterns emerging from star KIC 8462852 sparked excited rumors about the possibility of an alien existence. The theory was that the star — which is 1,500 light years away, and "brighter, hotter, and more massive than the sun" — experiences fluctuations in the brightness of its light that are so significant a huge mass of some sort was blocking it. Naturally, an alien civilization blocking the star was proposed back in October by astronomer Jason Wright of Penn State University, but this idea was rejected by most in the scientific community.

Most scientists suggested instead that the body blocking KIC 8462852 was probably a "giant family of comets," but that theory is currently being rebutted by the latest research released by astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University, which — you guessed it — actually puts alien theories back on the table.

In his research, Schaefer found that knowledge of KIC 8462852 and its dramatic light fluctuations have existed in the scientific community for over a century since 1890, and analyzed over 1,200 measurements of the dimming between 1890 and 1989. According to Schaefer's paper, this "century-long dimming trend requires an estimated 648,000 giant comets (each with 200 km diameter) all orchestrated to pass in front of the star within the last century," and that this is "completely implausible."

"The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot," Schaefer told New Scientist. "But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas."

To Schaefer, it's far more likely that the dimming is caused by a single body experiencing ongoing change. "This one mechanism does not appear as any isolated catastrophic event in the last century, but rather must be some ongoing process with continuous effects," Schaefer wrote in his paper.

And to some, this "one mechanism" could very well be an enormous alien civilization.

But as Business Insider reports, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International also considered the possibility of alien life around the mysterious KIC 8462852 late last year and searched for signals around the star to no avail.

The identity of the mass responsible for dimming the star's light remains a mystery, but with Schaefer's research seriously challenging the commonly accepted "giant family of comets" explanation, there's sure to be a renewed dialogue about alien life, at least for the time being.