Watch CBS News

Strange 'E.T.' Star Getting Swarmed By A Hail Of Comets Baffles Scientists

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A mysterious star named KIC 8462852 has scientists scratching their heads. Weird variations in its glow prompted speculation it may be home to an advanced extra-terrestrial society. Now, new research says this strange star is getting swarmed in a hail of comets.

Astronomers were more than a little puzzled when KIC 8462852, located 1400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, dimmed on two occasions "in dramatic, never-before-seen ways," according to NASA.

So far, speculations about the bizarre light fluctuations have run the gamut. Scientists at SETI are studying whether the star may be home to an technologically-advanced alien civilization that has built "a phalanx of orbiting solar panels (a so-called Dyson swarm) that block light from the star."

Another theory was that "catastrophic collisions" in the star's asteroid belt have kicked up clouds of circumstellar dust and debris.

SETI is testing its E.T. hypothesis using the Allen Telescope Array to search for non-natural radio signals from the direction of KIC 8462852. While the possibility of locating extraterrestrial intelligence is exciting, Dr. Seth Shostak, SETI's Senior Astronomer writes, "it's most likely that the the dimming of KIC 8462852 is due to natural causes."

The latest study by Massimo Marengo of Iowa State University, Ames, studied infrared light images of KIC 8462852, using data from NASA's Spitzer Telescope. It will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Marengo's findings dispute the theory "catastrophic collisions" caused the dimming and says "the destruction of a family of comets remains the preferred explanation." His evidence points to a swarm of comets creating the bizarre fluctuations.

Still, even Marengo admits the mystery of KIC 8462852 has yet to be solved.

"This is a very strange star," he said. "It reminds me of when we first discovered pulsars. They were emitting odd signals nobody had ever seen before, and the first one discovered was named LGM-1 after 'Little Green Men.'"

"We may not know yet what's going on around this star," Marengo observed. "But that's what makes it so interesting." writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.


View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.