Have you ever heard of KIC 8462852? If you have, you’re probably a nerd.
Ah the ’90s…the days before being a nerd was cool.
But I digress. KIC 8462852 is the official name given to an F-type main sequence star located in the Cygnus constellation, which is nearly 1,500 light-years away from Earth. All of this is a bunch of science speak that means KIC 8462 is a fairly normal star.
Or at least, it should be.
KIC 8462 (also known as “Tabby’s Star”) was one of 150,000 stars observed by the Kepler space observatory, launched into orbit around Earth in 2009. Kepler observed frequent dips in the star’s brightness that didn’t appear to be part of the star’s normal pattern of behavior. Combine that with the fact that it was the only star out of all 150,000 that showed this abnormal behavior, and you have one interesting celestial object. The conclusion scientists drew from the data they collected was that a cluster of objects were passing in front of the star, blocking some of its light from reaching us. Theories as to what that could be included particles of dust or a cluster of comets.
But one of the more far-fetched explanations also happens to be the most intriguing.
Now if you didn’t bother watching the entire video I’ll sum it up for you. Basically the theory is that a hyper-advanced alien civilization could be building a structure around the star to harness its energy in some way. If that sounds really far out there in terms of credibility, that’s because it totally is. The chances of it actually being an alien superstructure are very low. But even so, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) institute has devoted resources to monitoring the star for any signs of radio signals or other transmissions that might be evidence of an alien intelligence at work around the star.
So why am I talking about this again? All of the information about this star broke last year, so why is it still important? Well it’s almost a year later, and we still don’t know what is happening to it. The star is dimming and we’re at a loss for why. And despite how far-fetched it is, scientists still aren’t able to completely rule out aliens as the cause, even if they are pretty much at the bottom of the list.
But say that it does turn out to be aliens? What would that actually mean for us? Well, it could mean a lot. Or it could mean nothing at all.
A couple of months ago, I discussed how religion might impact our first contact with extraterrestrial life. And I said that it might force our religions to drastically re-analyze themselves and change to fit the new perspective we had, or it might not change them at all. It’s something similar in this case, only now I’m not assuming that we actually meet the aliens face-to-face.
See, here’s the thing: an alien race capable of building a structure like this would logically be advanced, far more advanced than we are currently. So it’s like the scientist in the news clip says, we would have nothing to offer them. It is far more likely that even if they were aware of our existence, they’d likely treat it as little more than a trifling event and go about their business like we don’t matter. Because, in their perspective, we wouldn’t. The scientist uses the analogy of a human encountering an anthill, and while the metaphor is perhaps a little extreme in some ways, it is fitting. They would have no practical reason to stoop over and say “hey what’s up?”
But even so, even if the aliens didn’t stop by to meet us, would the revelation that other life existed out there change things for us? I’d like to think so. We’ve been asking ourselves the question “are we alone” for a very, very long time. Getting the answer to that question would be a historic event, so I can only imagine that at least some among us would find their worldviews shattered by the knowledge. However, at the same time, even if we did know they exist we wouldn’t really be able to reach out to them, at least not in any way that would matter. This mega-structure, if it exists, would be nearly 1,500 light-years away. And since we currently know of no way to travel faster than the speed of light, that means it would probably take them thousands of years to even reach us. And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that the light we are seeing here on Earth is literally over a thousand years old, since it had to travel so far to get to us. That means that the theoretical civilization building this mega-structure could be long dead.
So in the end, we might treat it as “hey look we answered that question, but it still doesn’t change anything for us here on Earth. We still have famine. We still have disease. We still have poverty. The environment is still in trouble. If we’re not going to meet them, then what’s the point?”
Of course, it is still possible that they would want to meet us. Now, most would think it egotistical of us to assume that they would be benevolent and want to help, but I would argue that it’s just as egotistical to assume that they’d want to destroy us as well. Both of these scenarios assume that they’d even care enough to give us any notice. And honestly, to me, if a species is that advanced I would assume they are capable of higher, rational thought. I think they would understand the fear of being wiped out, having likely faced their own fair share of hurdles in their history. So, at the very least, I believe they would be empathetic towards us, if not entirely sympathetic.
But only time will tell, right?
Well that’s all I have for this post. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.