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‘Alien megastructure’ star poses new puzzle

Image: Alien megastructure
An artist’s speculative representation shows a crumbling megastructure known as a Dyson sphere orbiting KIC 8462852. (Credit: Danielle Futselaar / SETI International)

He’s not saying it’s aliens – but an astronomer has raised new questions about KIC 8462852, the strange star that stirred up a debate about “alien megastructures” months ago.

In a paper submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters, Lousiana State University’s Bradley Schaefer reviews archival photographic plates that show KIC 8462852 at various times going back to 1890. He reports that the star, which is 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, faded by about 20 percent between the 1890s and the 1980s.

“This century-long dimming is completely unprecedented for any F-type main sequence star,” Schaefer writes.

KIC 8462852’s dimming was already worthy of note, due to observations by NASA’s Kepler space telescope that revealed unusual episodes during which the star faded by as much as 20 percent. That led Penn State astronomer Jason Wright to observe that such a pattern was consistent with what you’d expect if aliens were building an energy-generating megastructure known as a “Dyson sphere” around the star.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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