KIC 8462852, a star system between the constellations Lyra and Cygnus, broke a multitude of Fox Mulder hearts this Thursday. In October, commotion around the celestial body known as Tabby’s Star began to stir when an analysis of data from the Kepler space telescope revealed evidence of aperiodic dimming of about 20 percent. This amount of dimming was unlike anything that had been seen before. So the curious folks at the SETI Institute proposed that the change in luminosity could be because of one of two things: natural explanations or aliens.
Of the alien interferences it could be, thoughts were that the dimming could be caused by:
1. A so-called Dyson swarm of solar panels, installed for large-scale energy collection.
2. Artificial space habitats.
3. An object designed to provide a long-lasting signal to other galactic inhabitants.
Excitement was enough that SETI decided to crank up its Allen Telescope Array — the first time it has been used for such a search — and looked for relatively wide-band signals. Unfortunately: bupkis.
Analysis didn’t find any promising signals between the frequencies of one and 10 GHz. SETI announced that this rules out the omnidirectional transmitters it was looking for — those that were 100 times today’s total terrestrial energy usage in the case of the narrow-band signals, and 10 million times that usage for broad band emissions. If the purposed intelligent life used even a fraction of energy it would take to build solar panels to signal out to other planets, we would’ve been able to detect it.
Hey, humanity, chin up. At least we tried.
“The history of astronomy tells us that every time we though we had found a phenomenon due to the activities of extraterrestrials, we were wrong,” SETI astronomer Seth Shostak said in a press release. “But although it’s quite likely that this star’s strange behavior is due to nature, not aliens, it’s only prudent to check such things out.”