One of the 42 dishes in the Allen Telescope Array that remains trained on KIC gathering data that will appear soon in a published paper. Credit: Seth Shostak / SETI Institute

SETI Institute Undertakes Search for Alien Signal from Kepler Star KIC 8462852

21 Oct , 2015 by

“We either caught something shortly after an event like two planets crashing together or alien intelligence,” said Dr. Gerald Harp, senior scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, referring to the baffling light variations seen by the Kepler Observatory in the star KIC 8462852 .

And he and a team from the Institute are working hard at this moment to determine which of the two it is.

Gerald Harp of the SETI Institute is involved in gathering and studying data from the mysterious KIC Credit: SETI Institute

Gerald Harp of the SETI Institute is involved in gathering and studying data from the mysterious Kepler star. Credit: SETI Institute

Beginning last Friday (Oct. 16), the Institute’s Allen Telescope Array  (ATA) was taken off its normal survey schedule and instead focused on KIC 8462852, one of the 150,000-plus stars studied by NASA’s Kepler Mission to detect Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting distant stars.. The array of 42 dishes comprises a fully automated system that can run day and night, alerting staff whenever an unusual or interesting signal has been detected.

A swarm of comets has been proposed to explain the erratic and non-repeating light variations seen in the star located nearly 1,500 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. But no one really seems satisfied with the explanation, and the chances that we’d catch a huge event like a comet breakup or planetary collision in the short time the star has been under observation seems unlikely. Collisions also generate dust. Warmed by the star, that dust would glow in infrared light, but none beyond what’s expected has been detected.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is a “Large Number of Small Dishes” (LNSD) array designed to be highly effective for simultaneous surveys undertaken for SETI projects (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at centimeter wavelengths. Credit: Seth Shostak / SETI Institute

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is a “Large Number of Small Dishes” (LNSD) array designed to be highly effective for simultaneous surveys undertaken for SETI projects (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at centimeter wavelengths. Credit: Seth Shostak / SETI Institute

The ATA picks up radio frequencies in the microwave range from 1-10 gigahertz. For comparison, your kitchen microwave oven produces microwaves at around 2 gigahertz. Although Harp couldn’t reveal the team’s results yet — that will come soon when a paper is submitted in few weeks in a science journal — he did share the excitement of a the hunt in a phone interview Tuesday.

The array normally looks for a very narrow wave or specific frequency when hunting for potential “ET” signals. But not this time.

“This is a special target,” said Harp. “We’re using the scope to look at transmissions that would produce excess power over a range of wavelengths.” Perhaps from a potential alien power source? Maybe. Harp believes the star’s peculiar, a-periodic light variations seen by Kepler are “probably natural and definitely worth looking at” but considers an intelligent source a possibility, however remote.

This artist concept illustrates how two large, planet-sized objects could collide to create clumps of material in orbit around a star. The only problem is that they'd also create a lot of dust, which would glow in infrared light, something not seen around the Kepler star. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

This artist concept illustrates how two large, planet-sized objects could collide to create clumps of material in orbit around a star. They’d also create a lot of dust, which would glow in infrared light, something not seen around the Kepler star. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

During our conversation, he emphasized how special the light variations from the star were, adding how the “big gob” of material orbiting KIC (stands for Kepler Input Catalog) 8462852 is unusual in that it’s “clumped”. “We expect it to spread into a ring,” he said.

AAVSO chart of KIC 8462852. Click to go to the website to make your own customized version. Credit: AAVSO

AAVSO chart of KIC 8462852. Click to enlarge or go to the website to make your own customized version. Credit: AAVSO

Meanwhile, the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) published an Alert Notice this week requesting amateurs and professional astronomers around the world to immediately begin observing KIC 8462852 now through the end of the current observing season. To locate the star, you can either use the charts provided in our previous story or go to the AAVSO site and type in KIC 8462852 in the “Pick a Star” box to create a chart of your own.

I’m a variable star observer, so naturally I thought of variables with irregular fluctuations in light when I first heard about this stellar mystery. Time to talk to an expert. According to Elizabeth Waagen, senior technical assistant for science operations at the AAVSO,  KIC 8462852 is different.

“Based on the information so far, it doesn’t seem to fit the criteria  for an irregular variable,” said Waagen in a phone interview this morning. “It’s doesn’t add up.”

She encouraged an open mind. “It’s a big puzzle, so we sent out the notice,” referring to the alert described above.

All quite exciting, and I’m as eager as you to see the published results on the signals, which Harp said would appear or link from the SETI website soon. Stay tuned …

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Justin LG
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Justin LG
October 21, 2015 11:11 AM

What are the odds of rogue planets or something passing across the plane of view closer to us than the star system that is being monitored?

Aqua4U
Member
October 21, 2015 1:34 PM
The ‘buzz’ is stronger than the signal? Sooner or later I suspect that a definitive alternate to ‘alien construction’ will present itself. Of course, it would be so way double extra groovy cool if we did find a coherent signal somewhere in the mix of data from this star. PROBABLY that signal would not be in radio frequencies but instead might exist in the realm of gravity waves or monopole magnetic pulses? Or even with a hyper frequency attenuation of some sort? The Allen radio telescope array definitely needs more funding to buy and install more sophisticated sensors, nodes/antennas to sharpen it’s view. A crowd source funding effort wouldn’t hurt? Come ON you billionaires! Don’t you want your… Read more »
UFOsMOTHER
Member
UFOsMOTHER
October 21, 2015 1:38 PM

Great article Bob we are all waiting for the SETI results from this one and what an Impact to Humanity it would make if it is an Alien Structure from 1500 years ago. And if it is the next question would be where are they now ? and do they still exist ? but we will probably find some other (more natural) explanation for these very exciting signals…

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 21, 2015 1:40 PM

It’s just a technical glitch in the telescope. Nothing astronomical about it. SETI is making fools out of themselves. More now than ever. They’ve recently had generous donors, but after this failure I’m afraid that investors will be very careful to associate themselves with them. I’m sorry.

Aqua4U
Member
October 21, 2015 2:17 PM

Your handle. Don’t we wish… Think Kepler next gen. aka JWST!

Note: The JWST will be located in L1, whereas the DSCOVER mission is now operating at L2. (L= Lagrange point)

Beckler
Member
Beckler
October 21, 2015 3:18 PM

I like how you just assert as though fact – thanks. Also it’s a good thing you did comment since otherwise the possibility of it being noise from the instrument or environment never would have occurred to them.

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 21, 2015 5:11 PM

The researchers investigated and eliminated the most complicated of errors. It is an impressive piece of peer reviewed paper with dozens of authors. Exquisite with its analyses ranging from instrument technology to stellar astrophysics.

But the post-doc first name maybe should’ve had a look in the calendar in order to realize that this artefact is an instrument failure. However else could the phenomenon be perfectly coordinated with the telescopes orbital period around the Sun?

Excellent work! And a memorable lesson learned by the post-doc. And by the community, I hope.

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 21, 2015 5:55 PM

The famous paper on the subject is my source, of course. See figure 1 for the timing. There’s no need to “surmise” anything, just a need to think. How come that F3 star 1500 light years away twinkles in lock step with the telescope’s orbital period? Really very clever aliens maybe grin
http://arxiv.org/pdf/1509.03622v1.pdf

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 21, 2015 7:20 PM

TY for clarifying that. I don’t see how Keppler’s orbital period fits the pattern either.

It also occurs to me that if the orbital period affected the data, there was a bad pixel, there’d likely be more than one such anomaly out of 150,000 targets.

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 21, 2015 4:39 PM

The fools at SETI didn’t spot KIC 8462, it was completely different fools. The SETI fools are just doing what you’d expect fools to do; pointing a radio telescope array at the weirdest stellar body ever seen. Crazy, isn’t it. I’m sure most people with radio telescopes are not foolish enough to bother observing peculiar stars.

Some day something like SETI will detect extraterrestrials. It might take another hundred years, or it might have just happened over the weekend. Yawn. Either way, the investment so far has been probably less than what the world spends on jumbo paper clips. Fools! We could have nearly doubled our jumbo paper clip supply instead. You know, just in case.

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 23, 2015 9:18 AM
It’s maybe not one dead pixel. Maybe a set of neighboring pixels fade gradually now and then. They might be damaged by cosmic radiation. Maybe a microscopic grain of dust is caught in a bad place. Why do pixels on a TV screen in a living room sometimes go blank? It should be verifiable if the erratic dimming at the end has something to do with the failing reaction wheel. The perfect timing with turning the telescope makes an astrophysical explanation unlikely, especially since there exists no reasonable astrophysical explanation. How could 0.02% of Solar system mass comets hide 22% of the star? Is it an extremely high metallicity star? No, it seems to be a perfectly normal… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 23, 2015 11:19 AM
I tend to agree, the comets explanation is underwhelming. That’s a lot of comets, “clustered” no less. I’ve never heard of a comet cluster before. As you say, the whole Oort Cloud is only supposed to be a small % of the mass of the solar system, and it’s pretty spread out (understatement). I can hardly imagine how an Oort Cloud could be perturbed such that a presumably large fraction of the whole cloud could be corralled into a cluster, then sent inward en masse. TBH your solution (plain old human error) has got to be more likely than that. But I’m still not sold. It’s worth mentioning that the Kepler folk don’t claim they’ve proved that, about… Read more »
Jeffrey Boerst
Member
October 22, 2015 2:00 AM

Again, it’s too bad they don’t have you on their teams like all of the other teams that are so dim witted compared to you that you’ve made mention of before, as you obviously know more than any other mere mortal……….

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 22, 2015 2:09 PM
@Jeffrey Boerst Yeah, it’s a pity. I would’ve saved them a lot of time. Because I know the number of days in a year, and I can multiply by two. None of those two dozen astronomers seems to have thought about that. It’s way too simple for them to consider. They didn’t mention it in section 4 where they in bold conclude: “the nature of KIC 8462852’s light curve is astrophysical in origin.” And they don’t mention the two-year cycle, although periodicity should be at the heart of Kepler exoplanetary science. Instead they invent a humongous comet cloud. Nice handiwork in the details, but total failure in the overall conclusion, I think. Much as if they were still… Read more »
mewo
Member
mewo
October 22, 2015 4:46 PM

The apparent two year periodicity is just coincidence. It isn’t even exactly two years, and the earlier dips at 140 and 260 days do not fit it anyway.

Both the Kepler control team and the authors on this paper know to check for wonky pixels. In any case, light curves are extracted from several pixels surrounding the position of the source, not just one.

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 22, 2015 8:01 PM
One dead pixel going in and out of the star’s light can very well explain the random dips. At most it would be one out of five pixels imaging that star. And the authors do NOT mention a dead pixel as an explanation. Nor do they touch on the two year cycle. It is a bit more than 2 years because Kepler orbits slightly slower than Earth. The 140 and 260 day anomalies are much less than 1% and unremarkable, they can have any kind of explanation as do thousands of similar tiny Kepler data variations (they could even be exoplanets). The idea that Earth orbit is coordinated with some huge comet cloud around a star 1500 light… Read more »
mewo
Member
mewo
October 23, 2015 2:39 AM
Nope, you are wrong. The two-year “period” does not line up exactly with Kepler’s orbital period either. The fact remains that this *is* an astrophysical event, and you just don’t understand how the telescope works. The authors *did* check your dead pixel explanation, by testing whether the centroid of the star moved during the dipping events. The way that works is this: say you have an image of a star spread over five or ten lit pixels. You can measure the apparent center of that distribution through various averaging techniques. Now say one of the pixels turns off but the others stay lit. That will move the center of the distribution, shifting the centroid of the star. The… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 23, 2015 4:17 AM

Wait, so, it’s not clear whether you are saying ONLY that a pixel did not fail DURING the transit, or that this method proves no bad pixels COULD have been involved, period. Do you know?

Not that I believe the Lone Pixel theory based on Faraway’s declaration, but I’d like to know whether it’s definitively ruled out, or not (and preferably why). A bad pixel isn’t any crazier on its face than a Borg cube, or some of the other ideas. (Did Kepler detect tachyon weapon signatures?) At least a bad pixel would be easier to prove/disprove.

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 23, 2015 5:53 AM
mewo, If I match up the dates of turning the scope correctly with the days into the mission the anomalies occur, the 15% and 22% anomalies occur directly after it having been oriented in the same way. The first anomaly (<1%) occurs a week before such an orientation according to the table, but maybe the orientation wasn't changed during those early days, so it is covered too. http://keplerscience.arc.nasa.gov/ArchiveSchedule.shtml It's a slam dunk instrument issue. "Tabby's star" which it is unfortunately for her dubbed on Wikipedia, does not have any astrophysical explanation. Her et al paper is great in its investigation, but the conclusions that 1) It is not an instrument failure and 2) It is a comet cloud,… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 23, 2015 7:02 AM
Faraway, OK… If Kepler rotates 4 times per 372 day orbit, and the same pixels stay glued to the target for ~93days… Why don’t the dimmings last almost exactly 93 days? What happens to make the pixel work fine most of the time? And, how do you know they can’t/didn’t test the CCDs for bad pixels? Maybe they can’t/didn’t, but do you know it? Maybe they did, and all the pixels are A-OK – do you actually know otherwise? And, even if the dimming is an artifact caused by the rotation, I don’t see how you know it’s specifically a bad pixel that’s responsible. Maybe it’s something else that corresponds to the rotation. Not to mention the many… Read more »
permanently_ad_hoc
Member
permanently_ad_hoc
October 21, 2015 6:18 PM

Can someone explain why this isn’t just gas blocking the star light? Clouds can cover a lot of area with little mass. They need not be evenly distributed which would explain the irregular light curve. Not being solid particles, they don’t radiate IR. Possibly a collision involving a gas giant? Or a near miss that pulled out streamers of gas? Or perhaps some other source?

According to http://keplergo.arc.nasa.gov/CalibrationResponse.shtml
Kepler doesn’t contain a filter, so gasses absorbing a portion of the spectrum would be perceived as a dip in the total intensity.

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 21, 2015 7:35 PM

Gas clouds big enough to block starlight would be heated by the star’s light and re-emit detectable IR, and that IR is missing (is what we are told).

I’ve wondered whether gas clouds (or some other objects) could be in the foreground, far from any star, and thus remain cold, but I still don’t think that’s the answer. Maybe it’s part of the answer? Might there be multiple factors at work? One phenomenon producing the ~22 day cycle, and something(s?) totally unrelated that caused the two ~20% dips.

permanently_ad_hoc
Member
permanently_ad_hoc
October 21, 2015 7:57 PM

Bo Zo,

I don’t think that atoms or molecules of gas absorbing the sunlight will emit broad, thermal IR. They will get rid of their energy at discrete wavelengths.

crocodilebomb
Member
crocodilebomb
October 21, 2015 11:53 PM

I like the “more data” idea, Bob.

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 23, 2015 7:09 AM

Oh, now that’s just cheating!

permanently_ad_hoc
Member
permanently_ad_hoc
October 22, 2015 12:51 PM
Bob and BoZo, Unfortunately, that is a common mis-conception. Gas molecules can only absorb and radiate energy in one of three ways – due to electronic, vibrational or rotational changes. Electronic (electrons changing orbits) gives off optical or ultraviolet photons. Rotational gives off microwave and lower. Only vibrational gives off IR photons. And that is quantized into discrete lines. So you are NOT going to see a broad IR signature from warm gas. Dust, yes. Chunks of rocks, yes. Gas, no. Here is a reference that describes it nicely. http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/molecule/molec.html Another way to think of it: Those FLIR sensors that see body heat wouldn’t work if the intervening air, which is also about at body temperature, were radiating… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 22, 2015 10:43 PM
I’m no expert, so I stand ready to stand corrected. But. Vibrational energy is heat, and the gases would be heated, so vibration increases until a photon is emitted. Why does it matter whether the IR is broad spectrum or discrete lines? Discrete IR emissions are still detectable IR emissions, no? I think it was actually dust & debris that were ruled out by missing IR, rather than gases. But wouldn’t the same thing apply? If a gas cloud is being energized by a star it must re-radiate the energy, or get infinitely hot. If there’s a ton of gas, where’s the stellar energy? (At any spectra you like.) And, changing subjects a bit, I don’t know how… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 22, 2015 11:17 PM

permanently_ad_hoc,

As to your example of the FLIR sensors:
IR is great for astronomy because dust and gas are transparent to IR _at_some_wavelengths_, but not all wavelengths, depending on the composition of the gas. As an example, CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” that absorbs some of the outgoing IR from the earth, but is otherwise mostly transparent to IR.

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 22, 2015 11:26 PM

Oh. I misunderstood what you meant by your FLIR example. I get it now.

Do humans and atmospheric gas radiate at the same wavelengths? If its a different wavelength, then there’s no noise from the intervening air.

And even if there is interference, IDK, but it seems to me that, even at the same temperature, the human (50+kg) is radiating a lot more heat than the air in between (nearly zero grams), so the human is much brighter. Just a guess.

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 23, 2015 6:41 AM
I just read somewhere that IR astronomy is performed in orbit in part because ground based scopes are blinded by the IR emitted by the atmosphere (and to a lesser extent because much of the IR from space is absorbed by the atmosphere). So by whatever mechanism, Earth’s atmosphere radiates in the IR. (Although maybe it’s particulates or suspended vapor?) Also, I found some “before and after” visible and IR photos of nebulae, where gas is apparent in IR that is not seen in the visible. (If I am wrong I’m interested to know the right answer.) But, from what I think I understand, the lack of observed IR might not rule out gas anyway, due to the… Read more »
PrometheusOnTheLoose
Member
October 21, 2015 11:58 PM
Building a Dyson sphere seems to me to be somewhat impractical. The amount of time and materials it would take to build a Dyson sphere just seems to make it unlikely that any civilization would want to bother trying. My bet is that, instead of doing the Dyson sphere thing, they would be creating huge space ships, going to the gas giants they have, and siphoning off Hydrogen, Oxygen, Helium, whatever they need, for their energy needs, using fusion reactors, or, nuclear reactors in space. I just think that the alternatives to a Dyson Sphere would be better, given that they can be built on a smaller scale, perhaps even be made mobile. Artificial planets would even be… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 22, 2015 3:50 AM

FWIW, I mostly agree. I think a Dyson sphere just seems outlandish, even if E.T. only had to press a button on the old Dyson-o-matic and bam, it’s done. Still seems crazy.

A modest Dyson swarm OTOH might be worth having. We might build one ourselves some day.

Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 22, 2015 4:39 AM
Faraway, My old camera has one bad pixel. I never fail to notice it in every picture. That’s without any diagnostic software or experts or anything. I’d expect a bad pixel to affect every single measurement. I just don’t buy it. On what are you basing this theory, just that one graph that shows two dips ~500 days apart? Do you actually know from some source that there is a bad pixel, or is that your conclusion based exclusively on the graph? (I know it has an entire bad CCD, but the Kepler people know that too…) Also, I still don’t see how the periods coincide, even with a 93 day rotation. (That’s like 5.2 rotations or something… Read more »
FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
October 22, 2015 9:07 PM
I’m basing my “theory” on revolutionary new astrophysics according to which the 0.01% of the mass of a solar system which consists of comets, suddenly forms a huge swarm, half the diameter of a huge F3 star, and swims around it once exactly every even birthday of mine… No. I simply note that all anomalies occurred when the Kepler telescope had the same pixel directed towards that star. 4 times a year it rotated to keep its shield towards the Sun. It turns out that the two major anomalies occurred right after it oriented itself into the same position, exposing that star to the same faulty pixel. The crowd which authored that paper should’ve noticed that too, especially… Read more »
Bo Zo
Member
Bo Zo
October 22, 2015 9:44 PM

So, in other words, your assessment of the unlikelihood of a comet swarm (which btw everyone shares) is absolute proof that there is one pixel responsible for the effect.
It just seems you’re jumping pretty quick and far to that conclusion. Especially since the periods are irregular and not divisible by/into 372. And it doesn’t explain most of the activity at all (like the irregular ~20 day cycles).
I was hoping you had something more to base it on.

Darklight
Member
Darklight
October 22, 2015 9:47 PM

FarAwayLongAgo: In this day and age the name is a generic one. Get with the times, or do you not believe in traveling through time? WTF, I mean – where’s the flux!? If this is an alien structure, you might need a little humor.

Darklight
Member
Darklight
October 22, 2015 7:22 AM

What were the exact dates of when Kepler started gathering data from the area, when researchers noticed the star, when researchers noticed the star making its first flux, and when researches became aware that it was weird? Thanks for any information.

Aqua4U
Member
October 23, 2015 12:26 AM

Hopefully the JWST will settle all.. Or maybe we’ll have to wait for the JWST Mk. II? Regardless… more observations won’t hurt.

Darklight
Member
Darklight
October 23, 2015 12:38 AM

Eyes to the sky, routinely.

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