Data on an Unusual Star: KIC 8462852

Scientists looking at past data of a certain patch of the night sky have noticed something strange: a star, named KIC 8462852, seems to have dimmed in overall brightness by a significant factor, over 20% since 1890. This may seem like a long time, but in the life cycle of a star, this is faster than anything scientists have ever seen before. Intriguingly, the star has also been dimming and brightening erratically, sometimes by as much as 22%. Both of these are things that have never been seen before. Scientists initially hypothesized that a cloud of comets or large planets could be causing the dimming, but before long this was ruled out, as the dimming was too erratic. Another, even less credible theory, is that the star is home to a high level Kardashev civilization, one which has harnessed the energy of its sun by building a large solar panel-like structure around it. If this theory sounds far out to you, then you are with good company. It is a concept straight out of science fiction, and most of the scientific community (ancient alien theorists aside) does not believe in this “Dyson Sphere” theory. Even if life did exist in the KIC 8462852 system, harnessing energy on this scale is entirely hypothetical and may not be possible.

The technology being used to look for signs of this star is a mix of old photographic plates from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the Kepler Telescope. The data gathered from these sources was compiled, and the new data from Kepler supported the older data, painting a picture of the star’s unprecedented dimming. Questions of the reliability of the plates have been brought up, as the old technology could hold less accurate data. However, this is unlikely, as the plates are backed up by Kepler, with modern technology.

If any of this sounds interesting, I have provided some links to additional reading in the text above.

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