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If you went online this week, you probably saw something about a super-weird discovery made by the Kepler space telescope. Some of the more excitable news sources are reporting that it might have found proof of aliens around the distant star KIC-8462852. In this episode of DNews, Trace is joined by astronomer Aaron White from the California Academy of Sciences to discuss how just how likely all this is. Kepler's mission is to look for planets outside our solar system by looking very closely at other stars. When a planet passes between the star and Kepler, it registers an extremely small dimming of light coming from that star. This is known as a transit, and it's the easiest way that astronomers currently have to detect exoplanets. A giant planet the size of Jupiter would register a dip of about one percent if Kepler registered its transit.
The reason for this week's collective internet freakout is because the dip in light received by Kepler from KIC-8462852 is around 20 percent. This could mean something huge is blocking the star's light, and some are speculating that it's proof of an advanced alien civilization that's built something like a Dyson Sphere around their sun. In this episode of TestTube Plus, Trace and Dr. Ian O'Neill explain how only an extremely advanced alien civilization would have the technology to build something like this. A Dyson Sphere is essentially a huge collection of space-based solar panels that gathers up light from its host star and converts it into usable energy. Any civilization that could build one of these would give them access to an enormous power source, but as a side effect would block the star's light from a distant viewer's perspective.
So what Kepler saw could be explained by a Dyson Sphere, or it could even be a form of alien intelligence looking to make its presence known to other intelligent beings. But...it could also be a lot of other, far less exciting things, like a comet or dust cloud. What do you think it is? Feel free to give us your best guess in the comments down below.
Image © Frieso Hoevelkamp/Stocktrek Images/Corbis Follow Aaron on Twitter: https://twitter.com/astrowut Learn More:
Kepler's 'Bizarre' Signal Sparks Alien Intelligence Speculation (Discovery News)
"The fascinating speculation surrounding a recent Kepler observation of a star 1,500 light-years away has reignited questions of alien life in our universe and what it means for future studies."
Has Kepler Discovered an Alien Megastructure? (Discovery News)
"NASA's Kepler Space Telescope is tasked with finding small, rocky worlds orbiting distant stars. However, exoplanets aren't the only thing Kepler can detect - stellar flares, star spots and dusty planetary rings can also pop up in the mission's observations."