NASA says talk of alien megastructure is a ‘bit of a stretch’

20 Oct 2015

Causing quite a stir among the astronomical community, a mysterious light source surrounding a distant star has spurred talks of a possible alien megastructure, but NASA’s not buying it.

The suggestion of an alien megastructure, or any alien structure for that matter, is usually met with ridicule from the science community, but the results of a recent star survey have even had respected scientists dipping their toes in the possibility of the first signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

The original discovery came following analysis of the star KIC 8462852 by Tabetha Boyajian of Yale University as well as a number of citizen scientists from the Planet Hunters crowdsourcing programme.

In the paper they published online, they detailed data that described a star unlike anything that had been seen before, as they observed nearby exoplanets experiencing irregularly shaped, aperiodic dips in flux down to below the 20pc level, which to those who don’t know, is very peculiar indeed.

They have since spent their time analysing and re-analysing the data sent back by the Kepler Space Telescope in the hope of finding an anomaly, but alas, everything appears to check out.

This led some astronomers to suggest the potential for a megastructure that is often referred to as a ‘Dyson Sphere’.

Kepler space telescope

Illustration of the Kepler Space Telescope. Image via NASA Ames/ W Stenzel

Named after the person who theorised it, Freeman Dyson (who spoke to last year) suggested that an incredibly advanced civilisation would harness the energy of the sun by constructing a giant solar harvester around a star.

One of the biggest proponents of this theory with KIC 8462852 was astronomer Jason Wright who is working on his own paper suggesting a potential ‘swarm of megastructures’.

“When (Boyajian) showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright said in an interview with The Atlantic.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilisation to build.”

NASA, meanwhile, ever the party pooper, came in level-headed and assured everyone that considering the possibility of alien life should be the least plausible suggestion.

Writing to, one of NASA’s scientists working on the Kepler Space Telescope, Steve Howell, said of Boyajian et al’s findings: “The mysterious star, KIC 8462852, does have an odd light curve.”

He continued: “It does not look like a normal exoplanet or binary star light curve. However, I think that saying that it immediately is alien is a bit of a stretch.”

Dyson Sphere concept image via Kevin Gill/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic