Science Keeps Not Debunking the Alien Dyson Sphere Idea

Science can’t seem to disprove the giant alien megastructure some have proposed as an explanation for Tabby’s star, AKA, the WTF star, AKA KIC 8462852.

All the scientific studies in the world of this one mysterious star have so far ruled out every theory except one, and it’s the wildest one. The whole thing started when Yale astronomer Tabetha Boyajian located star KIC 8462852, unofficially known as “Tabby’s star,” after Boyajian. Tabby’s star is doing something very strange.


In 2009, NASA launched its Kepler probe to keep a close watch on a small section of the sky — the idea was to learn more about a smaller area than less about a larger one. The probe tracks how light reflected from stars dims and grows brighter. Generally, when a star dims, a planet has passed in front of it, and will again and again as it travels its orbital path.

Kepler’s found some 2,000+ planets orbiting stars and published its data to allow citizen scientists to confirm their findings. A group of people affiliated with Yale called Planet Finders started going over the data, and Boyajian found her star.

To start with, it’s unexpectedly dim for a star of its its size and age. But what really got her attention was this chart.

The chart that started it all. (TABETHA BOYAJIAN/KEPLER/NASA)

Each vertical dip represents a holy-cow reduction in the star’s brightness, more than 10 times the dimming that astronomers would expect from a planet even as big as Jupiter crossing in front of the star. So it appears it’s not a planet causing Tabby’s star to dim, which is why it’s also called the “WTF star,” after the paper they published about it titled “Where’s the Flux?

The data suggests something huge is orbiting the star, but what?

The reason the WTF star is famous is the hypothesis put forward to explain the dimming by Penn State astronomer Jason Wright: That what’s orbiting the star could be a “swarm of megastructures,” alien-built energy collectors, much like terrestrial solar panels. Wright told The Atlantic, “When Boyajian showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked. Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.” He was imagining something like a Dyson sphere.

Artist’s conception of a Dyson sphere (KEVIN GILL)

Crazy, right? Well, since then scientists have been frantically pushing out other hypotheses to explain the anomaly.

Here are some of the more normal theories, and why they’re probably wrong:

  • Kepler was malfunctioning — Nope.
  • It’s a cloud of dust from star formation — But the star isn’t young. It shows no sign of the infrared light that indicates a new star.
  • It’s a swarm of comets — But the dimming is too extreme to be caused by comets.
  • It’s debris from colliding planets — But that matter would get sucked into the star so quickly it would be unlikely to linger long enough for us to see it.
  • So, yes, WTF indeed.

    SETI pointed its radio telescopes at Tabby’s star for two solid weeks but detected no radio signals that would indicate civilization emanating from it. No joy — or maybe terror — there.

    And then there’s this. Louisiana State University’s Brad Schaefer went through old photographic plates of that area of the sky and deduced that the star has dimmed by 20% over the last century. Could this be when the aliens were building their Dyson sphere? Though Schaefer’s finding was disputed, there’s now a new study from California Institute of Technology and Carnegie Institute that suggests the dimming over this period is twice what Schaefer found.

    Okay, so the fact that other theories have been a bust is in no way proof that there’s a Dyson sphere collecting energy around Tabby’s star. Maybe it’s just that no one’s come up with a more plausible hypothesis yet. But it in no way is it proof that there isn’t one, either.

    Stand up against religious discrimination – even if it’s not your religion

    As religious diversity increases in the United States, we must learn to channel religious identity into interfaith cooperation.

    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • Religious diversity is the norm in American life, and that diversity is only increasing, says Eboo Patel.
    • Using the most painful moment of his life as a lesson, Eboo Patel explains why it's crucial to be positive and proactive about engaging religious identity towards interfaith cooperation.
    • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
    Keep reading Show less

    Moon landing astronauts reveal they possibly infected Earth with space germs

    Two Apollo 11 astronauts question NASA's planetary safety procedures.

    Credit: Bettmann, Getty Images.
    Surprising Science
    • Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins revealed that there were deficiencies in NASA's safety procedures following the Apollo 11 mission.
    • Moon landing astronauts were quarantined for 21 days.
    • Earth could be contaminated with lunar bacteria.
    Keep reading Show less

    NASA's idea for making food from thin air just became a reality — it could feed billions

    Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.

    Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash
    Technology & Innovation
    • The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
    • Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
    • The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
    Keep reading Show less

    Where the evidence of fake news is really hiding

    When it comes to sniffing out whether a source is credible or not, even journalists can sometimes take the wrong approach.

    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
    • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
    • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
    Keep reading Show less