Could there be an advanced alien civilization in our cosmic backyard? Phil Plait raises that fascinating possibility in his essay “Did Astronomers Find Evidence of an Alien Civilization? (Probably Not. But Still Cool.)”
He’s right. Probably not.
He’s also right. It is still cool.
As Plait explains, the star KIC 8462852 dims at irregular intervals and in an erratic pattern. The sequence and nature of its dimming appears to preclude the possibility that a planet or any other known astronomical body is causing the dimming. However, there is another possibility which arises from intelligence. Plait observes,
“Decades ago, physicist Freeman Dyson popularized an interesting idea: What if we built thousands of gigantic solar panels, kilometers across, and put them in orbit around the Sun? They’d capture sunlight, convert it to energy, and that could be beamed to Earth for our use. Need more power? Build more panels! An advanced civilization could eventually build millions, billions of them.”
Build enough panels around a star and one would effectively create a “Dyson Sphere”, a massive lattice of solar panels surrounding a star and absorbing massive amounts of energy for use by the advanced civilization.
As you might have guessed, the idea is that the irregular and erratic dimming of KIC 8462852 could be due to a Dyson Sphere being constructed by an alien civilization.
On the upside, KIC 8462852 is in our cosmic backyard. On the downside, it is still one thousand light years away. Thus, if a Dyson Sphere is being constructed, we’re now seeing it’s “shadow” as it looked one thousand years ago. And KIC 8462852 would likewise be receiving light which left the sun during the Middle Ages.
I’m not ready to place any bets, but it would be unimaginably cool if intelligent life existed elsewhere in the universe. In the interim, if you’re interested you can read more of my musings on the possibility of alien civilizations beginning with “Keeping an open mind about aliens.”