Something extremely bizarre is going on with the star known as KIC 8462852. It is about 1,480 light years from Earth and is nicknamed “Tabby’s Star” after Tabetha Boyajian, the Yale astronomer who discovered its bizarre behavior.
What’s happening? A few years ago astronomers noted that KIC 8462852 dimmed by about 22% from usual – which is a lot. Way more dimming than is explainable by a planet or planets passing in front of it. It is completely unprecedented. Now, just last week, it started dimming again. Many different telescopes are zooming in on Tabby’s Star to see what is going on.
Now here is where it gets weird. There are a few possible explanations for the dimming that have been proposed: (a) a flock of comets passing in front of the star (that’s what the image above depicts), (b) a cloud of dust, or (c) a Dyson Sphere.
What is a Dyson Sphere? An alien superstructure that harvests the energy of star.
In the 1960s physicist (not the vacuum inventor) Freeman Dyson speculated about the energy consumption of an advanced civilization. We’re draining our planet of energy and if our civilization were highly advanced we’d need to harvest a lot more energy from the sun. At some point an advanced civilization would need so much energy that just having solar panels on its home planet would not be enough. At that point, the civilization would build giant solar panels around a star to gain more energy. That’s a “Dyson Sphere.” Here are a few pictures of what a Dyson Sphere might look like:
While this sounds CRAZY – it is theoretically plausible enough that astronomers sort of keep look out for signs of a Dyson Sphere. Maybe Tabby’s Star will turn out to have dimmed due to a Dyson Sphere. Click here for something else Kinda Bonkers
Related to the Dyson Sphere is the Kardashev scale which is a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement based on its energy use. The scale has three categories:
- A Type I civilization—can use and store all of the energy which reaches its planet from its star.
- A Type II civilization can harness the total energy of its planet’s star. A Type II civilization would use a Dyson Sphere or the like.
- A Type III civilization can control energy on the scale of its entire host galaxy. That is a lot of energy!!!! But there are a lot of galaxies out there. Who knows how they’d do this.
All this talk of Dyson Spheres has me in the mood to go vacuum something.
Source/more reading from Scientific American: Scientific American – Tabby’s Star Dims Again!