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SETI is looking for alien signals around the mysteriously dim star KIC 8462852

Last week, news of a mysterious star that may harbor alien life made a splash in the media, and now the star has caught the eye of SETI — world’s foremost organization dedicated to searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. The possible alien explanation for the unusual formation is compelling enough that SETI has decided to immediately begin studying the star. “We either caught something shortly after an event like two planets crashing together or alien intelligence,” said Dr. Gerald Harp, Director of Center for SETI Research, in an interview with Phys.org.

Beginning last Friday, SETI removed its Allen Telescope Array (ATA) from its regular schedule and focused it primarily on KIC 8462852. Funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the ATA contains 42 small antennas arranged in a highly-efficient array. Instead of its normal narrow band scans, the ATA this time is tuned to scan for “transmissions that would produce excess power over a range of wavelengths.”  The system is capable of continuously scanning a region around the clock, with an alert system that will notify staff when an interesting signal is detected.

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The recently discovered KIC 8462852 is attracting interest due to its unexpected properties. Located approximately 1,500 light years from Earth, between the Cygnus and Lyra constellations, KIC 8462852 was initially identified as an object of interest by the armchair astronomers at Planet Hunters. What caught their interest was the unusual variation in light intensity around the star and lengthy timescale (weeks to months) of this variation.

Making it even more mysterious is the observation that the cluster of material surrounding the star  appears to be clumped together instead of dispersed into a ring. Some astronomers believe this object could be the result of a planetary collision or possibly a cluster of passing comets and their fragments. Others don’t agree completely with these explanations, noting that there is no detectable dust to indicate a collision. They also question the timing of the event, citing the unlikelihood that such an event would happen at the same time a powerful telescope is pointed at that area. Though the chances of finding alien life is low, this latter group still is exploring the possibility that this anomaly is the result of alien intelligence.

SETI has yet to announce what it has found in its early analysis of KIC 8462852, but the exploration is ongoing. After this initial data is analyzed, the team is preparing to observe KIC 846 2852 using special Antonio feed receivers, which are now being added to the Allen Array. This new hardware will increase the sensitivity of the array by a factor of two, upping the odds that SETI could detect an alien signal if there was one being transmitted.