Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expect a proportionate culture gap...

I don't want to get everybody's hopes up, but seriously, everybody raise your hopes. Like a lot, because a post-doctorate student at Yale called Tabetha Boyajian may have just discovered an alien Ringword. Holy shit, a goddamn ringworld.
Pictured: a goddamn ringworld.
Ah, yes, I see...
(note: no I don't)
Here, click on this and read Boyajian's paper. Can you believe it? Proof of aliens. Amazing, right?
Ok, so the paper doesn't mention aliens anywhere. It's just math, thirteen pages of complicated math.

"The STFT is presented in Figure 3. This shows that the 0.88 day signal is present in most of the Kepler time series, with the strongest presence occurring around the day 1200."

-Tabatha Boyajian, blinding us with science

Pictured: astronomers out having a
good time while we're all home pouring
over the Kepler's data like chumps.
From what my primitive non-math brain can gather, the Kepler telescope stares at stars and waits for the light they emit to dim briefly and regularly as something passes between it and us, suggesting that there's an object in orbit. Because it looks at so many stars and astronomers are busy people with rich social lives, they crowdsource (is that even a word?) the drudge work to us, the little people, through a website called which lets amateur astronomers try and spot patters in the data which might indicate a planet.

<cough> aliens <cough>..."
-Tabatha Boyajian

After a particular star has been flagged by enough armchair planet-spotters, the real scientists step in and seize all the glory. One star in particular, KIC8462852 showed some crazy light patterns that aren't so easily explained as natural phenomena. It's an irregular dimming that goes 80% dark and stays dark for 5 to 80 days at a time. Boyajian and her co-authors ruled out the usual explanations  (usual for space that is) like planets, dust rings, crap on the telescope's lens, everything but comets, but even that, according to Boyajian and her team, doesn't fit the data perfectly. Boyajian told Ross Anderson of The Atlantic that there were other, non-natural causes they were looking at as well.

Should be the last hypothesis,
but what the hell right? Aliens!
No really, serious science people aren't ruling out aliens. Astronomer Jason Wright from Penn State is going to be publishing his own paper about the findings in which he will suggest that the pattern could be the result of alien mega-structures passing between us and the star. 

"Aliens should be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looks like something you would expect an alien civilization to build."

-Jason Wright, Penn State,
totally considering the alien
hypothesis, like first thing

Non-natural signals, prime numbers, the
light jazz and soft, comforting tones of
public radio hosts. That sort of thing.
I'm not sure we can expect aliens do do anything, that's why they're aliens, but the idea is that mega-structures (mega being derived from the Latin for 'big' and structures meaning 'things') like a Dyson sphere (sort of a swarm of solar collectors), or my personal favorite theory, the aforementioned goddamn ring world, might cause the weird patterns we're seeing. Boyajian and some of her colleagues want to point some radio telescopes at KIC8462852 next in the hopes that, we can pick up some kind of signal consistent with an advanced, technological civilization.

Above: so this, but on a scale at which
our entire civilization could disappear and
a new one rises before we get a response.
Anyway, this is science, so evidence of aliens must invariably followed by the loud, open-hand face-slap of reality. Mega-structures or no, KIC8462852 is still 1,480 lightyears away and this poses some problems. First of all, if there are aliens there and we want say hi we're going to have to wait 1,480 for a signal to get to them and then another 1,480 to get one back. You know how annoying it is when someone won't return a time-sensitive text? Now factor in a 2,960-year wait at minimum. Yikes, right?

Of course at that distance the light we're seeing is from the sixth century, so these aliens were building orbital structures capable of blotting out their sun at a time when humans were busy kicking off the middles ages. Even if we could communicate with them, we'd be a planet full of snarling savages by comparison, what could we possibly have to talk about? Faster-than light travel? Game of Thrones? I suspect more separates us from whatever beings might inhabit KIC8462852 than just a few light years.
"Sorry, I don't watch it, my people have evolved beyond the need for HBO.
But hey listen, I've really got to get going, we should hang out sometime, maybe
drop by? You guys have warp drive, right? No? Oh, well, we'll see you around."

-The KIC8462852-ian ambassador,
saying we'll totally hang out, but
we both know he doesn't mean it

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