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Space NASA Sci-Fi

Could Giant Alien Structures Be Dimming a Far Away Star? (sciencemag.org) 397

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Astronomers and alien life enthusiasts alike are buzzing over the sudden dimming of an otherwise unremarkable star 1300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. KIC 8462852 or "Tabby's star" has dimmed like this several times before, prompting some researchers to suggest that the megastructures of an advanced alien civilization might be blocking its light. And now -- based on new data from numerous telescopes -- it's doing it again. "This is the first clear dip we have seen since [2013], and the first we have ever caught in real time," says Jason Wright, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University in State College. If they can rope in more telescopes, astronomers hope to gather enough data to finally figure out what's going on. "This could be the first of several dips about to come," says astronomer David Kipping of Columbia University. "Many observers will be closely watching." KIC 8462852 was first noticed to be dipping in brightness at seemingly random intervals between 2011 and 2013 by NASA's Kepler telescope. Kepler, launched to observe the stellar dimmings caused when an exoplanet passes in front of its star, revealed that the dimming of Tabby's star was much more erratic than a typical planetary transit. It was also more extreme, with its brightness sometimes dropping by as much as 20%. This was not the passage of a small circular planet, but of something much larger and more irregular.
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Could Giant Alien Structures Be Dimming a Far Away Star?

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  • No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @06:05AM (#54468531)
    Glad that I cleared that up for you.
    • When the words "NASA" and "alien" appear in the same sentence, the answer is "no".
    • So-called "brownouts" due to demand for electricity exceeding supply are relatively common in Third World countries . . . why should outer space be any different . . . ? The nukes that power the star just aren't big enough.

      . . . or . . .

      The system's civilization utilizes advanced solar technology for 100% of their energy needs. They turn down the brightness of the star on weekends and holidays to conserve precious solar energy.

      Alien mega-structures are not blocking the sunlight. The Dead Kennedys succ

    • Glad that I cleared that up for you.

      Well, it could be. It could also be a swarm of interstellar teapots that use the stars to get their tea just that much hotter. Probably not though.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @07:35AM (#54468791) Homepage

      The answer is, with absolute certainty, "Yes".
      If there were aliens and they could make giant structures and those structures were placed between us and some star, it would surely dim.
      Whether any of this actually exists is an entirely different question from whether or not it could exist.

  • Scrith (Score:5, Funny)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @06:13AM (#54468541) Homepage Journal

    Well does it block 40% of all neutrinos?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @06:19AM (#54468561)

    Obligatory Google images link [google.com]

    And not just not, but fuck no.

  • by Maritz ( 1829006 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @06:38AM (#54468597)

    Yes.

    Are they? Probably not.

    • Re:Could they? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sudon't ( 580652 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @07:12AM (#54468711)

      For most people, no explanation = God(s). But for a small group of people, no explanation = aliens. You know who you are. Then there is that third group who is willing to admit that we simply don’t know the answer yet, without jumping to extraordinary conclusions.

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
        Yeah. But people jump the gun. No explanation now does not equal no explanation ever. Religious people and alien enthusiasts just need to accept that sometimes we don't fucking know. Let's fucking investigate!
      • I explain it as aliens made by God.

      • There's a fourth group you're missing. People who, because there is no evidence of it being caused by aliens or god(s), erroneously conclude that it cannot be aliens or god(s) (or aliens sufficiently technologically advanced to be indistinguishable from gods), and thus "has to be" some sort of natural phenomenon.

        No explanation simply means no explanation. Any proffered explanations are merely conjecture, but rejecting those explanations is also conjecture. All are jumping to conclusions. For millenni
  • Idiots... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @06:40AM (#54468601)

    Astronomers and alien life enthusiasts alike are buzzing over the sudden dimming of an otherwise unremarkable star 1300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. KIC 8462852 or "Tabby's star" has dimmed like this several times before, prompting some researchers to suggest that the megastructures of an advanced alien civilization might be blocking its light.

    "Some researchers"? Perhaps as a joke. Trillions of stars out there of immense variety and form and the moment someone sees something they don't recognize immediately it clearly must be an alien superstructure... Sigh... It's like the people who see some lights in the sky they aren't familiar with and immediately forget what the "U" in UFO stands for, instead going straight to deciding it must be alien visitors.

    And the proper term for "alien life enthusiasts" is "mentally ill person". These are people who for whatever reason WANT it to be an alien whatever and who see aliens and conspiracy theories everywhere with no regard to actual evidence. The pattern recognition parts of their brain are stuck in overdrive and no longer function properly because they are disconnected from the rational parts of their brain.

    • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )

      Not quite. Several questions involved:

      1. Is there life, elsewhere in the universe? Given basic chemistry, and the known fact (well actually, exceptionally well-supported theory) that abiogenesis occured one one planet (i.e. Earth), the likelihood of it arising elsewhere is close to 1.0.

      2. If there IS life elsewhere, has it evolved to intelligence? Unknown, and too little data from the one case we have (Earth) to generalize.

      3. If Question 2's answer is "yes", has it survived and advanced to the sta

      • 1. Is there life, elsewhere in the universe? Given basic chemistry, and the known fact (well actually, exceptionally well-supported theory) that abiogenesis occured one one planet (i.e. Earth), the likelihood of it arising elsewhere is close to 1.0.

        2. If there IS life elsewhere, has it evolved to intelligence? Unknown, and too little data from the one case we have (Earth) to generalize.

        So, given that life evolved on one planet, the likelihood of it evolving elsewhere is close to 1.0, but given that it evol

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Life happened quickly, intelligence didn't. However, Intelligence happened quickly after the Cambrian Explosion, so the path from complex multi-cellular life to intelligence seems easy. The journey from life to complex multi-cellular life seems like the hard part, to judge from history.

      • 1. Is there life, elsewhere in the universe? Given basic chemistry, and the known fact (well actually, exceptionally well-supported theory) that abiogenesis occured one one planet (i.e. Earth), the likelihood of it arising elsewhere is close to 1.0.

        And if it didn't occur here, then the odds of life on other planets actually go up, because our planet would then be proof that life can cross the void of space between planets. We're pretty sure of that already, with some viruses and spores being hardy enough to survive the trip if protected well enough, which actually isn't very well at all.

        2. If there IS life elsewhere, has it evolved to intelligence? Unknown, and too little data from the one case we have (Earth) to generalize.

        No, but odds are good that it's possible, since intelligence is useful for all kinds of tasks.

        If Question 2's answer is "yes", has it survived and advanced to the state where engineering works of such magnitude are possible ? Absolutely zero data: we certainly don't have the capability.

        That is the sticking point. Not only can we not do it, but we lack the te

        • Re:Idiots... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @09:30AM (#54469295)

          >No, but odds are good that it's possible, since intelligence is useful for all kinds of tasks.

          Not to mention that intelligence has all the earmarks of an evolutionary universal - a generic trick independently evolved several times. Octopi are as smart as cats - and the rest of the molusc kingdom is mostly things as stupid as clams (literally). Cats and Octopi didn't inherit their brains from a common ancestor (Their last common ancestor didn't have much of a brain) - they developed it independently.

          So if intelligence can develop multiple times, independently, that fits the idea that it's so generically useful that evolution will favor it whenever a mutation arises that assists it.

          Humans took it a step further, and so far the evidence suggests nothing else has done so except under influence FROM humans (literally - when interacting with us, their brains are pushed to learn to think a bit more like ours) which is to become self-referential. It's not just that we're smart, it's that we can think about WHAT we think, think about HOW we think - and even come up with ways to do it more effectively - that seems to be unique. And we took it one step further yet again. We didn't end at inteligence - we developed EXTELIGENCE, the ability to store our thoughts outside ourselves where they could outlive us. The first tool for this was complex communication: speech, which made it possible to convey our thoughts to others, and store it in their memories. The next step was writing, and so on and so forth until the current peak of exteligence: the internet.
          Now these two things appear to be utterly unique to our species. We didn't just learn to use and make tools - but to share those techniques across societies, and allow others to improve on our progress over time. Since, here on earth, that looks like a uniquely human achievement - it's a lot harder to extrapolate that it will have happened elsewhere. At the same time - since it DID happen here at LEAST once - we cannot dismiss the possibility either. The odds of it being possible is 1. It has happened, therefore it is possible.

    • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )

      Trillions of stars out there of immense variety and form and the moment someone sees something they don't recognize immediately it clearly must be an alien superstructure... Sigh... It's like the people who see some lights in the sky they aren't familiar with and immediately forget what the "U" in UFO stands for, instead going straight to deciding it must be alien visitors.

      So are you saying that of the trillions of stars and trillions of habitable planets out there, not one of them has intelligent life on it?

      As far as I can tell, "aliens" is just one of many explanations brought forth by the authors of the original paper. Unfortunately, many of the more mundane explanations such as dust clouds and massive comet clusters had since been ruled out, so that leaves "aliens" as one of the few remaining viable explanations (until somebody comes up with more of course). I personal

      • So are you saying that of the trillions of stars and trillions of habitable planets out there, not one of them has intelligent life on it?

        No I'm saying that extraordinary claims require actual proof. Just because we cannot yet conclusively rule out that it is an "alien mega-structure" doesn't mean we should be favoring that as the likely explanation.

        As far as I can tell, "aliens" is just one of many explanations brought forth by the authors of the original paper.

        At most it should be a "we cannot rule this out conclusively" sort of footnote with copious caveats. Even mentioning it without additional evidence is borderline irresponsible given how crazy people get about such claims.

        Unfortunately, many of the more mundane explanations such as dust clouds and massive comet clusters had since been ruled out, so that leaves "aliens" as one of the few remaining viable explanations

        Unless ALL of the mundane explanations have been ruled out AND we have more

    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      To be fair, the claims of "aliens" are mostly coming from the media because sensational headlines leads to more readers. What actually happened was that some scientists included the possibility that it could be a Dyson structure in their list of possible explanations for what's going on, stressing that it was unlikely to be the case, and the media ran with it without the emphasis on the last part.

      The problem here isn't with the scientists - except in so far as they were naive in their handling of the me
    • Astronomers and alien life enthusiasts alike are buzzing over the sudden dimming of an otherwise unremarkable star 1300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. KIC 8462852 or "Tabby's star" has dimmed like this several times before, prompting some researchers to suggest that the megastructures of an advanced alien civilization might be blocking its light.

      "Some researchers"? Perhaps as a joke. Trillions of stars out there of immense variety and form and the moment someone sees something they don't recognize immediately it clearly must be an alien superstructure... Sigh... It's like the people who see some lights in the sky they aren't familiar with and immediately forget what the "U" in UFO stands for, instead going straight to deciding it must be alien visitors.

      And the proper term for "alien life enthusiasts" is "mentally ill person". These are people who for whatever reason WANT it to be an alien whatever and who see aliens and conspiracy theories everywhere with no regard to actual evidence. The pattern recognition parts of their brain are stuck in overdrive and no longer function properly because they are disconnected from the rational parts of their brain.

      Until proven wrong, I say it's Aliens. You can't prove me wrong until you have facts to dispute me, and besides my fact-less assertion is just as valid as your fact-less assertion. One difference though. MINE is fun to think about. Yours is BORING.

      • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @08:28AM (#54469011)

        Until proven wrong, I say it's Aliens. You can't prove me wrong until you have facts to dispute me

        I don't have to prove you wrong. That's not how science works. You don't get to make an unsupported assertion of a positive result and then challenge others to prove you wrong. You made the assertion that it is aliens so you get to be the one to back it up with actual verifiable observations. You have a hypothesis and you get to be the one to run the experiment. For all I know it might be aliens and I'm not saying it is or is not. I'm merely saying that it isn't the most likely among the possible explanations and that we should not favor it until we have better evidence. This doesn't mean I'm ruling out out but merely that the evidence thus far does not even come close to the level needed to support that as a reasonable conclusion.

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

    It could also be an gigantic orbital doughnut maker using the star to heat the pig fat. We don't know but it's fun to make up some explanations.

    We do know for sure that doughnuts are cooked in pig fat though.

    • I'm picturing a giant dimmer switch and an alien of some sort saying "Watch what they do when I do this ..."

    • We do know for sure that doughnuts are cooked in pig fat though.

      We know for sure that doughnuts are typically cooked in trans fats, because fats which are solid or semi-solid at room temperature tend to produce a superior product. You can also use canola oil or peanut oil. I have retrieved the peanut oil used by one vendor for use in biodiesel manufacturing. (This failed because the BioPro 190e failed. And then they failed to support their hardware. BioPro can DIAF.)

  • by andydread ( 758754 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @07:00AM (#54468659)
    If it where alien megastructures such as a Dyson type sphere the dimming would more likely be at consistent intervals rather than random intervals which seems to be what's happening here. It's probably interstellar dust/gas of some sort
    • Re:Answer is no (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Chrontius ( 654879 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @07:34AM (#54468783)
      Assuming that it's a single regular ring around the equator of the star, and not a massive constellation of collectors eclipsing each other at seemingly random intervals because that's what was maximally efficient according to both energy capture, and launch costs, while slowly moving into more efficient orbits over the millennia using solar sailing.

      It's not like there's no good reason to have anything but a blandly periodic function in a Dyson swarm
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Obviously, it's the debris of an alien megastructure, destroyed in an alien inter-galactic war!

    • by wjcofkc ( 964165 )
      Perhaps a Dyson's Swarm, under construction.

      https://youtu.be/M8ryqjyLBL8
  • like a big 'ol dust cloud or asteroid field, of varying density, possibly perturbed by other bodies?
  • by Slicker ( 102588 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @08:16AM (#54468955)

    A Dyson sphere, much less a partial Dyson sphere with sporadic orbit makes no sense. Why build such huge things? With technology so advanced, there are plenty other ways to gets lots of energy. They could harvest cosmic rays or put quantum entangled particles inside stars to generate energy from the paired particles. A lot more fissile material must exist in the parts of a solar cluster that failed to ignite.

    However, an armada of spacecraft heading straight here from that star would not only dim it, from our perspective, erratically but also dim more and more of it, as it draws near to us. While also highly improbably, I prefer this alternative as it just seems way more exciting.

  • For some reason this has done the rounds in the popular media twice.

    But it was just as ridiculous when we discussed it in October last year [slashdot.org]

    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      Blame the media, but it's not entirely a dupe. The actual story here is that Tabby's star has just started to dim again which means that astronomers are scrambling to do more observations, gather more data, and hopefully figure out some alternative possiblities with supporting evidence for what's going on, natural or otherwise. Unfortunately, we're probably going to have to get used to the Tabby's Star / aliens theory cropping up every time this dimming happens because - unlikely as the alien mega-structu
  • Occam's Razor? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2017q4@virtual-estates.net> on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @08:19AM (#54468971) Homepage Journal

    I am not an astronomer — not even an amateur one — but is "giant alien structure" really the simplest explanation they could come up with?

    And how is it different from the "God made it so"?

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @10:53AM (#54469823)

      I am not an astronomer — not even an amateur one — but is "giant alien structure" really the simplest explanation they could come up with?

      And how is it different from the "God made it so"?

      No, and none of the actual astronomers and other scientists involved with this think it's the most likely answer. In fact most believe it's the least likely answer. However, it is possible based on what has been observed and, of course, the media latched on to that for headlines.

      As to how it's different from "god made it so": this is testable, that isn't.

      The good news is that because of all the interest there are a ton of resources looking at it right now so even if it's not an alien superstructure, we will probably learn something new from it.

      Oh, another side benefit: When it comes back to be some weird natural phenomenon the tinfoil hat crowd will have another conspiracy about the government suppressing knowledge of an advanced alien race to keep them happy. So win-win-win.

  • This isn't news. This is olds.
    What's going on? Editors, wake up please.

  • The FSM obstructs them with his noodly appendage.

  • It was... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ramley ( 1168049 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @09:34AM (#54469309)
    "The dimming of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus. "

    Sorry, couldn't help myself... :-)
  • by Patent Lover ( 779809 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @09:54AM (#54469413)
    Clearly this happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It's a Death Star.

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