A recent discovery by Kepler, the planet hunter, has got everybody in the scientific community excited, as a brief look to this week’s news can prove. An otherwise quite ordinary, sun-like star called KIC 8462852 has been found characterised by bizarre dips in luminosity. In a paper that has suddenly become quite famous, the researchers explained that the star “was observed to undergo irregularly shaped, aperiodic dips in flux down to below the 20% level.
The dipping activity can last for between 5 and 80 days”, difficult to explain by planetary transits or other well known phenomena. Have we (finally) stumbled upon that mythic superstructure built by an advanced alien civilisation called Dyson Sphere, which harnesses the energy of a star?
If this looks like SF to you, you’re actually right: before being theorised at (astro)physical level, the structure itself was actually described by Olaf Stapledon in his SF novel, Star Maker, from which Freeman Dyson, the physicist, got the idea.
There are many variants of the concepts, all of them, however, speculating that “such structures would be the logical consequence of the long-term survival and escalating energy needs of a technological civilization, and proposed that searching for evidence of the existence of such structures might lead to the detection of advanced intelligent extraterrestrial life. Different types of Dyson spheres correlate with information on the Kardashev scale.” (For more, see this). The idea is interesting, and, while in this specific case there might be some simpler explanations (a “the passage of a family of exocomet fragments, all of which are associated with a single previous breakup event”, as proposed by the article) the possibility itself makes us dream.