Monday, January 25, 2016

Quickies: More Aliens?

     Jeez, I can’t throw a snowball into a herd of “independent minds” without hitting still more aliens:

     A star named KIC 8462852 has been doing some very strange things, with its light dimming and flaring by amounts far greater than could be explained by even a large planet orbiting it and doing so in irregular time intervals. This had scientists scratching their heads and late night comics riffing off it for weeks. None of the scientists wanted to say that it could be aliens (because that tends to end your career in the ivory tower community) but they admitted that in theory it could be some sort of Dyson Sphere type mega-structure built by a highly advanced civilization. Of course, they had to come up with something more acceptable than that, so they settled on saying the phenomenon was probably being caused by a giant swarm of comets or something.

     Well, some of the eggheads have been poring over the data and it sounds like the comet swarm theory isn’t going to hold water, at least according to Louisiana State University astronomer Bradley Schaefer. (Business Insider)

     “The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot,” Schaefer told New Scientist. “But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas.”

     To make his discovery, Schaefer had to dig deep down into the astronomy archives at Harvard. It turns out, astronomers have data on KIC8462852 dating back as far as 1890…

     What’s more, he explains in his paper that this “century-long dimming trend requires an estimated 648,000 giant comets (each with 200 km diameter) all orchestrated to pass in front of the star within the last century,” which he said is “completely implausible.”

     “Implausible” is right. Comets of that diameter are rare, and tend to be unstable. But that the star is highly variable at an irregular frequency is even harder to swallow; the typical variable star is highly regular. Of course Nature does have her little jokes, and this could be one of them. Alternately, it could be a matter of system engineering by a race more advanced than which case it would serve us well to get on their good side and stay there. A race capable of that sort of project would dispose of thousands, perhaps millions of times as much energy and overall resources as we Earthbound humans. We wouldn’t want to piss them off.

     At any rate, if it is an alien race, it’s 1000 light years away, and the interstellar mails are no swifter than our own. For the present.

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