A cosmic oddity being dubbed an alien megastructure by some might have a more realistic explanation – but the reality could be nearly as incredible.
For nearly two years, the mystery of KIC 8462852 has left astronomers scratching their heads to determine what could be causing a very irregular, systematic dimming of light from the star millions of light years away.
What really caught the attention of the general public, however, was the suggestion by some that it could be signs of an alien megastructure – referred to as a Dyson sphere – harnessing the star’s vast amounts of energy.
While some theories emerged that would somewhat back this incredible idea, the latest theory suggests a more realistic – but equally interesting – possibility.
According to new research published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers Ken Shen and Brian Metzger of the University of California, Berkeley have suggested that the star – otherwise referred to as Tabby’s Star – is busying devouring an Earth-like planet.
The erratic dimming of the star’s light, Metzger explained, could be attributed to the enormous amounts of debris being created by the destroyed planet, as each of its mantles is gradually ripped apart by the sheer power of the star.
Another possibility, he added, is that a planet of similar size and composition to Jupiter was completely sucked into Tabby’s Star, resulting in its moons being left behind, only to be gradually torn apart by the star, creating a considerable amount of light-blocking debris.
Unlikely to be alien after all
As for what could have caused a planet to be pushed into such proximity to a destructive sun, Metzger has suggested that Tabby’s Star might not have acted alone.
Instead, a companion star only 1,000 astronomical units away from Tabby’s Star – and half its size – would have contributed enough gravitational force to gradually move the planet into the fire zone.
So while there is still no proof that this is not the work of a distant, advanced group of extraterrestrials, Metzger has said to Popular Science that this phenomenon is probably more common than we think.
“You would have to believe that there are a million other alien civilisations assembling Dyson spheres right now.”