There Is No Alien Megastructure in Our Galaxy After All

Danielle Futselaar // SETI International
Danielle Futselaar // SETI International / Danielle Futselaar // SETI International

Back in October, Yale astronomer Tabetha Boyajian and a group of citizen scientist co-authors published an article about their unusual findings while observing the star KIC 8462852. The data about the flickering star led to some pretty spectacular theories, including one by Penn State astronomer Jason Wright, whose explanation involved a Dyson Sphere—a type of hypothetical megastructure that could in theory harness energy from the distant star. According to a new report by scientists from SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, there is no evidence to support that.

The hypothesis of an alien megastructure around KIC 8462852 is rapidly crumbling apart," SETI International president Douglas Vakoch said in a statement. (They're not subtle with this criticism; the illustration the organization released to accompany its press statement, shown above, is "an artist’s representation of a crumbling Dyson sphere orbiting KIC 8462852.")

Scientists at the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama used a 0.5-m Newtonian telescope to try to detect intentional laser pulses in the visible spectrum toward Earth. They found none. They speculate that the unusual phenomena observed by Boyajian and her team, in which at one point the star dimmed by a whopping 22 percent (even a planet the size of Jupiter passing in front of a star causes only a 1 percent dip), was caused by fragments from a comet in a highly elliptical orbit around the star.

Depending on how you feel about aliens sending messages to this planet and whether or not Dyson Spheres can even exist—they're still only theoretically possible—this could be perceived as good or bad news.

Regardless, scientists think that it is important to have a plan in place for the future. "If some day we really detect a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization," Vakoch said, "we need to be ready to follow up at observatories around the world, as quickly as possible."