A TEAM of astronomers has stumbled across what it believes could be a swarm of alien megastructures hidden millions of miles away.
The object in question is an unusual star, situated above the Milky Way, between the Cygnus and Lyra constellations.
A group of citizen scientists from the Planet Hunters program were examining data obtained from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope when they noticed the bizarre light pattern of the star, called KIC 8462852.
Among the 150,000 stars examined by the Kepler Telescope, this is the only one to show light flickering irregularly with unparalleled dips in brightness.
Planet Hunters overseer Tabetha Boyajian said the light pattern suggested the star was being circled in tight formation by a large mess of matter.
“We’d never seen anything like this star,” she told The Atlantic. “It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”
Ms Boyajian and a number of other astronomers recently published a paper offering natural scenarios that might explain the light pattern.
As dust and debris surrounded the sun when our solar system was first formed four and a half billion years ago, astronomers thought the pattern could have been from the emergence of a young star experiencing something similar.
However, as the star does not give off excess infra-red light, this theory was quickly scratched.
Another more likely theory is the event of another star passing through KIC 8462852’s system, bringing with it a large group of comets.
Shrapnel from an asteroid belt pileup, faulty instruments and a planetary scale impact have also been listed as logical explanations for the anomaly.
However, Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright believes the answer is a little more extraterrestrial.
“I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” he told The Atlantic. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilisation to build.”
Mr Wright suggested the light pattern could be from a “swarm of megastructures” designed to harness energy from the star.
The idea of such megastructures, dubbed Dyson Spheres, was first suggested by physicist Freeman Dyson in a 1960 research paper.
The physicist suggested a highly advanced alien civilisation could develop a massive orbiting structure lined with mirrors or solar panels to encompass a star in order to harness its energy.
“One should expect that, within a few thousand years of its entering the stage of industrial development, any intelligent species should be found occupying an artificial biosphere which completely surrounds its parent star,” Dyson wrote in the paper.
In an attempt to get factual evidence to explain the phenomena, Ms Boyajian and Mr Wright have joined forces with Andrew Siemion, the director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California.
Believing radio waves would be emitted if the light pattern was the result of technological activity, the three astronomers are working on a proposal to focus a radio dish at a star located some 1480 light years from Earth.
If sizeable radio waves are detected, the trio will head to the Very Large Array — a radio astronomy observatory located in New Mexico — to further determine if the radio waves are similar to those sent out into the universe from radio stations on Earth.
SETI chief astronomer Seth Shostak said if the discovery did turn out to be extraterrestrial, it would likely be from alien artificial intelligence instead of biological life.
“If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one human, then within five years, its successor is more intelligent than all humanity combined, ”he told Daily Galaxy.
“Once any society invents the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are at most only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm of sentience to artificial intelligence.”