Comet fragments likely to blame for dimming of star KIC 8462852, not aliens

alien star comet fragments screen shot 2015 11 25 at 2 51 21 pm
What exactly caused star KIC 8462852 to dim by as much as a quarter in 2011 and 2013? Some researchers believe the mysterious dimming of the distant star may be due to the simultaneous destruction of a group of comets, instead of the far fetched theories that briefly grabbed headlines last month.

Iowa State University physics and astronomy associate professor Massimo Marengo and two colleagues took a renewed look at infrared data on the star from NASA’s Sptizer Space Telescope. Their findings have been published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters, and conclude that the most likely reason for the drop in the star’s brightness is comet fragments.

“The scenario invoking the fragmentation of a family of comets on a highly elliptical orbit is instead consistent with the lack of strong infrared excess found by our analysis,” the researchers wrote. Other researchers have come to the same conclusion, including Yale University’s Tabetha Boyajian, who also argued comet fragments were to blame for the dimming.

Marengo’s findings will come as somewhat disappointing to supporters of a theory first postulated by Penn State researcher Jason Wright. In his own paper, he argued that the dimming is consistent with what would be expected of an alien megastructure — similar to the theorized Dyson Sphere — orbiting the star.

Wright’s paper set the physics and astronomy world afire, and even triggered SETI to start looking closer for alien signals emanating from KIC 8462852. But Marengo still believes his theory is the most likely.

His research shows that there was not enough excess infrared to suggest some type of asteroid or planetary collision, or any debris field. The comets likely came in from a steep orbit that briefly dimmed the star. As the cloud moved away, the brightness of the star was restored.

Will Marengo completely reject the megastructure theory? No, he told in an interview, and his research could not confirm or deny Wright’s theories. “What the star is doing is very strange,” he adds. “It’s interesting when you have phenomena like that – typically it means there’s some new physical explanation or a new concept to be discovered.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Among hundreds of choices, these are the best 25 SNES games of all time

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System might be the greatest game console ever made, but what are the best titles for the system? Here are our picks for the best SNES games.

If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.