Jason Wright

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There’s a shocking possibility that an enigmatic array of debris neighboring a distant star may be a large-scale structure built by alien intelligence, perhaps to collect solar energy. Or maybe not. It doesn’t seem explainable as a natural phenomenon, but whatever is it is that citizen astronomers detected when crowdsourcing the Northern Hemisphere skies, the find is awakening in scientists and non-scientists alike the suspicion that something could be out there. In an Atlantic article, Ross Andersen introduced the baffling scenario to a wider audience. An excerpt:

We know that something strange is going on out there.

When I spoke to [Yale’s astronomy postdoc Tabetha] Boyajian on the phone, she explained that her recent paper only reviews “natural” scenarios. “But,” she said, there were “other scenarios” she was considering.

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”•

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