Remember that “alien megastructure” the Kepler Space Telescope found a couple years back? Scientists have a new theory for what it might be that explains the readings we’ve seen without having to rustle up a science-fiction concept from the 1930s. So what is it? Rings, of course.
Tabby’s Star – the nickname for KIC 8462852 – was observed by so-called exoplanet hunters to be showing strange dips in brightness that we don’t see with other stars. Scientists offered up a variety of explanations for the shifts in brightness, from an extremely large planet or a debris disc. The most entertaining idea that caught the public consciousness is the suggestion that it might be an “alien megastructure.” Scientists and science-fiction authors have entertained ideas like this before, with one of the most enduring being the Dyson Sphere, where a star is wrapped entirely in solar panels to harvest 100 percent of its power outp
Let’s apply Occam’s Razor
But the University of Antioquia in Colombia has had a team of researchers looking at the star and proposed that a ringed gas giant like Saturn could cause the fluctuations watchers are seeing.
Watching the brightness of distant stars is one of the most effective ways we have right now of discovering exoplanets, and the focus of the team’s study was on how the rings of a planet like that would affect light transmission. The university had previously studied ways to identify ringed planets around these remote stars. Rings would obscure light coming from the star, but only by a little bit. And because the rings would be angled differently each time, that amount of light would be constantly varying.
If you want to hang onto the hope that there is, indeed, some kind of gigantic alien structure out there around Tabby’s Star, don’t worry – this is just a theory, albeit a well-supported theory. Check out the source below for a deeper dive into the science of the whole thing.
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