Reconstruction of KIC 8462852 showing what an alien megastructure
might look like (pic credit: Andrew Collins).


A Report from Andrew Collins

* complete with two updates in September and December 2016 *


October 17, 2015: The announcement by scientists this week that "alien megastructures" might orbit a distant star in the Cygnus constellation has much deeper, long term implications for humanity. In 2011 NASA's Kepler Space Telescope began to record something incredible. It was a star so strange that it has necessitated four years of close observation before any kind of public announcement could be made. That announcement came this week, with the proposal that what could be out there is the first real evidence of sophisticated alien technology. Could alien megastructures really be orbiting the star KIC 8462852, and could its proposed civilization have been influenced by the same cosmic rays from the Cygnus constellation behind our own origins as an intelligent species? Are these proposed ancient aliens linked with our own evolution? First, some background to this story.

The Kepler Space Telescope has been searching the region of sky between Cygnus and the neighbouring constellation of Lyra looking to find signs of rocky worlds like our own orbiting distant stars. So far it has found over a thousand of them, many with similarities to our own home planet. Yet Kepler is looking for far more than this. It can see stellar flares, star spots and dusty planetary rings, and soon after its launch in 2009 it started to record something that scientists down here could not believe at all. It was a star so strange that it has necessitated four years of close observation before any kind of public announcement could be made. That announcement came this week, but first a little bit of background.

Search area of the Kepler Space Telescope shown as a grid pattern between Cygnus and Lyra.

An orbiting exoplanet will periodically darken the stellar light being emitted by its home star as it transits, or moves across, its face. When Kepler detects an exoplanet, it does so by sensing this very slight dip in starlight. This lightcurve, as it is known, becomes the exoplanet's signature, providing researchers with information about its physical size and even its global temperature and atmospheric composition. It also reveals its shape, which, as you might expect, is generally planet shaped, that is round. However, what crossed in front of the star bearing the snappy name of KIC 8462852 in 2011 returned a highly irregular signature, which implied something of unusual shape was periodically transiting the star, causing its starlight to dip in flux down to below the 20 percent level. This is according to a paper on the subject submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society by highly credible astronomers, including citizen scientists from the Planet Hunters crowdsourcing program (download a PDF of it here).

What they have recorded across a period of four years of almost constant observation is highly significant as it is unlike anything ever seen before. The star (unofficially called Tabby's Star, or the WTF Star) is quite literally unique. What is more there is no room here for instrumental error, as this has already been ruled out. Kepler really is receiving a very strange signal from this star, located some 1480 light years (454 parsecs) away in Cygnus, the celestial swan, also known as the Northern Cross. If you want to find its position in the night sky look for the open galactic cluster known as NGC6866 located between the bright stars Deneb and Rukh (see map below). It is just around here.

Star map showing the position arrowed of the open galactic cluster NGC6866,
close to the location of KIC 8462852
(pic credit: Wiki Common Agreement)

"We'd never seen anything like this star," Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctorate researcher at Yale University and lead author of the published paper says. "It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out."

During the four-year period of observation two highly significant transits were recorded in connection with KIC 8462852. The first occurred between days 788 and 795 of the Kepler mission, with the second coming between days 1510 to 1570. The scientists involved in the mission refer to these transits as D800 and D1500 respectively. The D800 transit caused the starlight to dip by 15 percent, while D1500 consisted of a burst of transits, indicating the passage of an entire fleet of different objects, causing the star to dim down below 22 percent. To put this into perspective, this level of dimming during a transit has to mean that whatever is out there must be huge since exoplanets on dim a star's light by a few percent at the most. What is more, in the second instance, the transit signature indicated clearly that there was a whole swarm of these things passing across the face of the star. So what is going on out there?


Potential Explanations

The paper cited above attempts to evaluate the data and offer potential explanations. What researchers could be seeing is a whole swarm of comet fragments in orbit around the star following the break up of the comet itself. Yet this is seen as highly unlikely. What was also considered is that the objects represent a swarm of asteroids orbiting the star following the destruction of a planet in the star system. This too was seen as unlikely. The team looked also at the possibility that the strange signal was evidence of a planetary collision, or even the presence of a circumstellar disk of dust, something only usually found in association with relatively young stars. Yet KIC 8462852 is classed as a mature F-type star about 1.5 times the size of our sun. Both these ideas were also dismissed as unlikely.

As reasonable as any of these explanations might sound, they all had their shortcomings, leading the exoplanet team to come up with a highly unusual conclusion. In their calculated opinion, the swarm of objects seen transiting KIC 8462852 have all the hallmarks of being "alien megastructures," with the most logical conclusion being that they are stellar light collectors. In other words, they orbit the star in order to harnass the star's starlight so that the resulting energy can be used by an alien source for a whole host of purposes including the powering of computers, communication, spaceflight and things we can't even imagine at this time.


Dyson Spheres

Such alien megastructures have been the subject of science-fiction novels since the 1930s. However, in 1960 Freeman Dyson, a theoretical physicist and mathematician born in 1923, scientifically proposed this concept following a "thought experiment," in which he concluded that as alien civilizations advance they will need more and more energy. Thus they will eventually create stellar light collectors using an array of megastructures like those seen to transit across the face of KIC 8462852.

More pertinent to this debate is the fact that Dyson proposed that scientists should look out for signatures of energy collecting megastructures of this kind predicting that this would lead to the detection of extraterrestrial life (source: Dyson sphere, Wikipedia). That now perhaps has just happened.

Artist's impression of a Dyson sphere.

Since Dyson originally conceived of the concept of stellar light collectors others have advanced his theories of what have become known as Dyson spheres, named after one hyperthetical model that would completely encase a star in a material shell. Other types of Dyson megastructures have been suggested, and these are collectively known today as the Dyson series. They include a ring of objects all in the same orbit, as well as other models where the star is surrounded by whole arrays of starlight-absorbing objects.

So intrigued are the exoplanet scientists in this bizarre theory of alien megastructures they have submitted a report to the SETI Institute at Berkeley requesting that it turn one of the radio telescopes at its disposal towards KIC 8462852. In this way they can monitor if for the hum of intelligent activity. Clearly, these people have good reason to believe that whatever it is out there could very well be of artificial construction.

There is only one problem in assuming that the swarm of objects transiting KIC 8462852 are starlight-consuming megastructures. This is the fact that the collection of stellar light for use as energy would produce radiation in the mid infrared range. This would be detectable to space telescopes like Kepler. Yet so far it has not detected any infrared radiation in connection with the observed transits of KIC 8462852, which last between 5 and 80 days at a time. Although this might seem to dampen the alien megastructures theory, it could be that different types of starlight collectors might produce energy at other frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. It is these that need to be looked for in the future.

Artist's impression of a Dyson ring megastructure.

So we will have to wait patiently before what could be the greatest story of our time unfolds in full. Yet even if no useful answers are forthcoming in the coming years, there are far greater implications behind this incredible story. It embeds into people's minds the idea that scientists can very easily conclude that unusual phenomena detected in deep space might well be evidence of extraterrestrial life and alien technology. This is the first time this has ever happened, other than perhaps in the late 1990s when scientists announced that meteorites from Mars might well contain evidence of fossilised life. Such attitudes increase, very subtly, the public's perception and acceptability of alien civilizations existing out there in the universe. It makes the whole subject matter that much easier to debate openly, as has recently been shown on a number of different news channels that have discussed the reality or not of these alien megastructures and alien life in general.


The Cygnus Mystery

The fact that these alien megastructures are transiting a star in the constellation of Cygnus, the celestial swan, is also a bonus for me, as since 2006 I have promoted Cygnus as the source of cosmic rays that might well have affected human evolution on earth (Andrew Collins, "Cosmic Rays and the Cygnus Mystery"). Moreover, I show that ancient structures around the world from the 12,000-year-old temple complex of Göbekli Tepe to the Pyramids of Egypt are aligned towards Cygnus, it being seen perhaps as the place where human life originated, and where the soul returns in death.

I also proposed that if cosmic rays from Cygnus, in the form of cygnet particles from strange stellar objects like Cygnus X-3 might have affected human life here on earth, then very likely they might also have affected the development of life on planets much closer to the source of these cosmic particles. I predicted that if intelligent life was to be found anywhere in the galaxy it would be in line between the source of these cosmic rays in the Cygnus system and our own solar system. Now we find possible confirmation of this prediction with the discovery of what could be alien megastructures in exactly the area indicated. If this swarm of strange objects transitting KIC 8462852 do turn out to be extraterrestrial in origin, then it is possible that the alien civilization in question evolved to its current state through exposure to the same cosmic rays that have caused humanity's own accelerated evolution. Did our species evolve much more slowly than our alien cousins because we are further away from the source of these cosmic rays? Even if this is the case, might our two species possess similar evolutionary patterns? Might our thought processes resonate the same evolutionary paths towards the emergence of civilization? Is this something that the builders of key sacred places like Göbekli Tepe and the Pyramids of Giza were dimly aware of in the formative years of human civilization? Is this why they aligned their monuments to target the very place where we might now have our very first conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial life on another planet?

One last point that just has to be made. Since KIC 8462852 is 1480 light years from our solar system, this means that it takes as many years for the light from this distant star system to reach us. What this means is that if the strange swarm of objects transiting the face of KIC 8462852 really are alien megastructures, then what we are observing is the technology of an extraterrestrial civilization 1480 years ago, making this the best evidence yet for the existence of ancient aliens.


KIC 8462852 Update - September 2016

Is it a dead star walking?

Last October we brought you exclusive news of KIC 8462852 and its enigmatic light dimming by up to 22 percent, suggesting that something big and irregular was passing in front of it. Jason Wright of Penn State University was bold enough to suggest that what might be responsible for this dip in the light was an alien megastructure, a Dyson sphere, absorbing the star's solar energy so that it might be channelled for use by an extra-terrestrial civilization living on a planet in a nearby star system. Others, more soberly, proposed that the answer lay either in a swarm of comets encircling the star, or the wobbling motion of a young star surrounded by gas clouds. Since then there has been a storm of debate over what is going out there, although we should recall, of course, that KIC 8462852, otherwise known as Tabby's Star, is 1,480 years away. So it takes this long for its light, and its weirdness, to reach us.

The latest news is that a careful examination of 1,600 photos taken of KIC 8462852 in as many days between 2011 and 2015 has revealed something very disturbing indeed. In addition to the periodic dips of light of up to 22 percent, the star is losing its luminosity at a disturbing pace.

Across the first 1,000 days Kepler of observations, the star's light was found to have dimmed at a rate of around 0.34 percent per year. That isn't too bad, you might say. Yet over the next 200 days the star's brightness dropped by more than 2 percent before slowing down during the final days of observation (since then observations of KIC 8462852 using Kepler have been impossible as its lense adjustor is broken, meaning it cannot be repositioned manually). This means that in just under four and a half years the star has lost around 3 percent of its total luminosity. The two Caltech scientists who made the study (click to download the pre-print) also examined data from 193 nearby stars, as well as 355 stars that closely resemble Tabby's star and couldn't find anything else like it.

So if this study is correct in its findings, then this star is on a suicide course. A quick calculation suggests that if it continues to lose its light at a rate of 3 percent per year then it will cease to exist in just over 150 years! Or should I say, it will cease to exist around AD 686, just in time for King Cædwalla of Wessex to establish his overlordship of Essex in Anglo-Saxon England and Pope John V to die in Rome after a 12-month reign in which he has made handsome donations to the poor. Oh, sometimes it's confusing, isn't it!

Little Green Men-2

Anyway, quite clearly the demise of KIC 8462852 is something that will be played out in our own life times as well. I honesty don't believe it will disappear in just 150 years, although something is drastically wrong up there, and astronomers are trying to find out what. Clearly, it is not a swarm of comets causing all this mess, nor a young star spinning around with a dust cloud in front of it, so could the star's loss of luminosity really be down to an alien megastructure sucking away the star's energy at an alarming rate? Astronomers out there would love to tell you what they think might be going on. Yet not one will, because of three little letters - LGM. Indeed, cynics and skeptics are already referring to Tabby's Star as LGM-2.

So what is LGM, you ask?

LGM stands for Little Green Men, and LGM-1 was the name given to the source of a deep space radio signal detected back in 1967. Some astrophysicists genuinely supported the view that the signal was intelligent in origin and derived from an extra-terrestrial civilization. When it was eventually realised that the incredibly fast EM pulses were in fact coming from a fast-spinning neutron star called a pulsar there were a lot of scientists left with red faces. LGM-1 became PSR 1919+21 (PSR = pulsar) and the whole matter was dropped, but not forgotten. The acronym LGM became a warning to astronomers of the consequences of openly advocating aliens as a solution to an astronomical or astrophysical enigma. The LGM-2 tag now being applied to Tabby's Star is also a warning directed at those who prematurely claim that aliens are responsible for something they simply have no real answers for right now.

And this is right, we don't have all the answers right now, but secretly we can all speculate! Personally, I believe there is something quite extraordinary going on up there, although I do not believe that we have anything to worry about. I don't think there are aliens going around in megastructures sucking the life out of main sequence stars. It is possible, however, that what we are seeing is a natural process that occurs in the galaxy that necessitates the involvement of hyper-dimensional intelligences existing outside of normal space-time. Just a thought!

Anyway, here is the latest developments in the mystery as told by Centauri Dreams


The star KIC 8462852 in the constellation of Cygnus, the celestial swan.


Is the star being harvested for its stellar matter? A German academic says yes.

In late November 2016 a new paper from a German academic, Dr. Eduard Hendl, examines the unique periodic light dips recorded by the Kepler Space Telescope in 2011 and 2013 and concludes that they are the result of a process known as star lifting. This is the harvesting of stellar matter, most obvious hydrogen, helium or plasma, using an advanced form of alien technology. Star lifting can be utilised for a number of reasons, most obviously to harness a star's mass for use in construction or to reduce the light output or size of a star.

Are aliens harvesting the matter from weird star KIC 8462852. A German academic says yes! Pic credit: Andrew Collins

Star lifting is actually a smart solution to this mystery, much better than the existing proposal that any potential megastructure lurking around the star is either a starlight-collecting Dyson sphere or Dyson swarm (after the work of theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson). Harvesting stellar matter in the manner described will actually cause a star's light flux to gradually dim in exactly the manner recorded in connection with Tabby's Star.

This long term light dimming was first noted earlier this year by Bradley Schaefer, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Louisiana State University. He examined a set of old photographic plates - the so-called DASCH collection - housed today in Harvard University. They record every part of the night sky between 1890 and 1989. Examining the plates Schaefer found that KIC 8462852 had progressively dimmed its light by as much as 22 percent across the 100 year period the plates were being made. He published his findings online causing quite a stir in the process. However, his findings were called into question by a separate group of astronomers led by Michael Hippke, who found no such trend either in the Harvard plates or in another set from Germany known as the Sonneberg collection. Bradley Schaefer defended his position, leading to a rather public argument between all parties involved.

There the matter might have rested were it not for two astronomers, Carnegie's Josh Simon and Caltech's Ben Montet. They said, hang on, if this light dimming really was taking place across a period of 100 years shouldn't Kepler have seen this light dimming going on during the time it was observing the star between 2009 and 2013? Although the Kepler Space Telescope was created with this eventuality in mind - its main function being to register light flux perterbations caused by orbiting exoplanets - every month does capture the entire star field in view (this being the area between Cygnus and Lyra). What Simon and Montet found was that the Kepler data revealed that KIC 8462852 had dimmed by as much 3 percent in just five years of observation. So this new discovery suggests that Bradley Schaefer's findings were indeed correct. Thus it seems that since observations of the star began in 1890 it has lost a staggering 25 percent of its brightness, something that healthy F3 class stars just don't do! Arguably, this could have been going on for many years, perhaps even centuries, meaning that originally the star was might brighter indeed.

Star lifting can account for both the long term light dimming trends and the short term dips recorded by Kepler. These show a dramatic dip of up to 15 percent in March 2011 (known as D792, i.e. Kepler day 792) and another of up to 22 percent in February to April 2013 (known as D1519 and D1568). Other smaller dips of anything up to 3 to 5 percent also occurred at other times, and these too remain unexplained. Sadly, Kepler was not able to keep its focus on Tabby's Star after the dramatic dips of 2013, so we do not know whether any further light dips took place between then and October 2015. It was then that the star's strange activity was announced to the world, and since then every large telescope in the world has been pointing in the direction of Cygnus, without any further signs as yet of a major dip.

Heindl's working model for star lighting as the cause of the star's short term light dips (particularly light curve D792 that occurred in 2011) predicts that another large drop in light will occur in February-March 2017. Others, including Tabatha Boyajian herself, predict a major dip for May 2017. Let's hope either one of them is right.

None of this means that the mystery of Tabby's Star has been solved. Far from it. Plus there is every likelihood that a natural explanation will be found to explain all its anomalies reported to date, including both the short-term and long-term light dimming (even though aside from unlikely candidates like swarms of comets, disembodied planetary debris either around the star or in the nearby interstellar medium, and a disk of dust and cloud around an invisible black hole, natural explanations are sadly lacking at this time, and none proposed so far fully explain what is going on). Star lifting as a theory is a good one indeed. Only further data can truly help resolve this matter, and that we need urgently.

For those wishing to learn more about star lifting - its purposes and methods - watch this 30-minute Youtube video by science writer and futurist Isaac Arthur:

The concept with originally proposed by David R. Criswell, Director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston, in his pioneering paper "Solar System Industrialization: Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience," published in Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience (Eds. B. R. Finney and E. M. Jones), 50-57, Uviv. Calif Press, 1986.
Dr Heindl's paper has been picked up by the media with the Daily Mail publishing a major feature online under the title: "Dyson sphere' star may be dimming because ALIENS are mining energy from its surface, claim scientists." It is a good account of what is going on up there, and also provides a full review of what we know so far about the mystery of Tabby's Star. Here is the link:


Engineer Rodney Hale and myself are also examining KIC 8462852's short term light curves in an attempt to imagine the object or objects that passed in front of the star in 2011 and again in 2013. The idea will be to recreate what they might have looked like to help astronomers better identify what is going on up there. This involves an extraordinary lot of technical work, which as a chartered engineer and keen astronomer Rodney is ideally placed to do. Preliminary results suggest we are dealing with something completely unique to astronomy. However, so as not to make any mistakes this process will proceed very slowly, with notes and observations being made every step of the way. We have been in communication with Dr Eduard Hendl about his own physical modelling of the light dips, and he has been helpful in providing us with his primary dataset for comparison with our own ongoing work.