June 18, 2019 | 68° F

Simple Science: Do aliens exist?

Do aliens exist?

Not as far as we know. But scientists at NASA announced last week that they discovered certain signals emanating from a star that were inconsistent from what they should have been. In other words, they saw something weird.

Most stars emit light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation that terrestrial space agencies can detect. NASA and other organizations can even determine a star’s age and distance from Earth based on these readings.

The Kepler Space Telescope, launched in March 2009, has been looking at stars for the last several years from Earth's orbit. Citizen scientists — volunteers who help government space agencies — look at the pictures to find patterns and locate planets similar to Earth.

In the last six years, it has detected more than 1,000 planets and nearly 3,200 possible ones.

In 2011 these volunteers saw the star KIC 8462852 emit light in a “bizarre” manner, as if there was something large orbiting the star. This in and of itself is not unusual, as planets orbit stars all the time. What these people saw was a large, dense mass orbiting KIC 8462852 that was not emitting characteristic signals that other orbiting bodies normally emit.

There are a number of different scenarios that could account for the mass. The star might be passing through a large cloud of dust or other objects may have flown into KIC 8462852's orbit.

Young stars have similar masses orbit them before planets form — even Earth was once part of a cloud orbiting the sun.

The problem with KIC 8462852 is that there are no infrared signals coming from the mass. Young stars and their orbiting clouds of matter emit these signals, and it is one way for scientists to determine the star’s age.

With no such signals or other indicators, the star seems to be an older one, meaning the detected mass must be something else.

The problem is gravity usually makes these objects fall into the sun or form planets of their own within a short period of time.

KIC 8462852 is nearly 1,500 light-years or more than 88 trillion miles away from Earth. The light Kepler is detecting left the star a millennium and a half ago.

Kepler was meant to stay in orbit for less than four years, but will now fly for at least one more. It is an immense coincidence that this mass, which would not last long in front of the star, registered on Kepler’s detectors two years after it first launched.

While many theories have been posited, most or all have some factor, like gravity, which makes them unlikely.

Another unlikely theory that some researchers want to test is the idea that the object was placed in orbit around the star by an alien intelligence.

This would indicate an advanced race of beings able to build massive structures in space — something the human race is not able to do right now.

Researchers will first look for radio waves emanating from the star. If they see a large number of waves, more research will be done to determine their origin.

A more complete analysis and explanation can be found in The Atlantic’s article, “The Most Interesting Star in Our Galaxy.”

Nikhilesh De

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