The Kepler Space Telescope looks for changes in the light emitted by some 150,000 stars. The idea is to detect shadows cast by orbiting objects.
One particular star in a system 1,400 light-years away showed an unusual pattern of dips in the light it emitted, suggesting a cluster of objects orbiting it. Last year, Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, suggested it could be a swarm of alien megastructures.
“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build,” he told the Atlantic. Another theory is that it’s a family of comets though the circumstances of that scenario would still be highly unusual and scientists are still stumped by the strange dimming pattern.
On Aug. 3, astronomers Ben Montet of Caltech and Joshua Simon of the Carnegie Institute submitted a paper to the American Astronomical Society with another strange observation of this star’s light emissions.
Not only did KIC 8462852’s light dip in and out over the years Kepler observed it, it also steadily and rapidly dimmed.
“No known or proposed stellar phenomena can fully explain all aspects of the observed light curve,” they wrote. “We examine whether the rapid decline could be caused by a cloud of transiting circumstellar material, finding while such a cloud could evade detection in sub-mm observations, the transit ingress and duration cannot be explained by a simple cloud model. Moreover, this model cannot account for the observed longer-term dimming.”
Update: In May 2017 the star dimmed again. This time only for about five days.
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