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Surprising Science

What’s Causing This Star to Emit Such Unusual Light Patterns?

An update on the star 1,480 light-years away that gave us hope we weren’t alone in the universe.

Our worst fears have been confirmed: The formation circling the star KIC 8462852 may merely be a swarm of comets — not the “alien megastructure” we hoped it would be.

[Editor’s note: “Nooooooooo!”]

A group of researchers from Iowa State University have proposed a new most likely scenario for observations made earlier this year by NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. They believe the strange objects, which are causing the 22 percent dimming of starlight brightness, are most likely an array of dusty comet fragments. This concurs with assertions by the “Planet Hunters” citizen scientists group.

The recent study crushes a lot of hopes of Earth having a neighbor among the stars in this lonely universe.

“The scenario in which the dimming in the KIC 8462852 light curve were caused by the destruction of a family of comets remains the preferred explanation,” they wrote. The researchers believe this explanation is the most likely, but they aren’t ruling out an alien megastructure.

“We didn’t look for that,” Massimo Marengo, an Iowa State University associate professor of physics and astronomy, said in a press release. “We can’t really say it is, or is not. But what the star is doing is very strange. It’s interesting when you have phenomena like that — typically it means there’s some new physical explanation or a new concept to be discovered.”

However, after two weeks of the Allen Telescope Array pointed at the KIC 8462852 star, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) reports it has yet to detect any radio signals.

It seems like the search for intelligent life is still on, let’s just hope when we find the light signatures of a supercivilization we don’t find traces of a nuclear weapons blast.

“Is it some strange coincidence of having big planets nearby like Jupiter that helped deflect asteroids that allow enough time for life on this planet to have gotten to the point; are there other contingencies that we don’t know about that are so rare that maybe intelligent life happens only here? We don’t know,” says theoretical physicist Brian Greene.


Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: STAN HONDA / Getty Staff