Around a Star in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away…

This year has seen a lot of big news for space aficionados, from the finding of water on Mars to the incredible new discoveries surrounding Pluto, it seems like new knowledge is being gained with every passing day. However, it was data accumulated from the Kepler telescope that really had astronomers and sky watchers scratching their heads in wonder last week.

It seems that a star named KIC 8462852 has something large circling around it and it’s not a planet. Like any light bearing celestial body, when a solid object passes in front of it, the star’s light dims for a few days or hours, disappears and then returns once the orbiting solid object has cleared from our view. In the case of KIC 8462852, the star’s light has dimmed for up to 80 days at a time, and this happens at irregular intervals which means that the object does not have a normal orbit and therefore can’t be a planet.

Other potential theories like clots of rocks or dust is also unlikely to be the cause due to the fact that clots of dust and space rock tend to only occur around young stars which KIC 8462852 is not. Also, rock and space dust tend to give off infrared radiation (IR), and based on the IR measurements collected, this is not what is present in the strange object or objects circling KIC 8462852.

So what is it? There have been a number of theories, from a wandering star attracting comets (which is unlikely according to experts) to something that has hitherto seemed even more unlikely, alien architecture. While it in no way confirms the existence of intelligent life (and probably won’t) the theory of something called a Dyson Sphere (an alien structure there to harvest the energy from the star) makes the large object’s erratic presence more logical. Right now, this is a just a hypothesis and would require extraordinary evidence to make fact.

Moving forward the team in charge of keeping an eye on KIC 8462852 will be testing their hypotheses by looking for tell-tale signs of life around the star. This includes sweeping for radio signals, and large amounts of other forms of energy at specific frequencies.

It’s interesting to note how essential the ability to measure infrared radiation was to eliminating some of the theories surrounding KIC 8462852. Instrument System’s CAS 140, like the spectrometers used by the Kepler Telescope, can also measure IR energy. It’s instruments like these that continue to give researchers and manufacturers access to critical data when they need it most. Hopefully, as more research is completed regarding KIC 8462852, we’ll be able to learn if we really are alone in the universe.

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