NASA's Kepler Space Telescope captured strange light patterns from a star 1,480 light years from Earth, which remains puzzled by the unusual vision.
Kepler found the surroundings of KIC 8462852 as unlike — and far stranger than — any other of the stars that it has observed. The team of astronomers had been collecting data on the star for four years.
The telescope is on a mission to find other habitable planets and is watching over 150,000 stars during its space journey, particularly looking for dips in light from stars that could indicate planets are passing in front of them.
Dr. Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at Yale, said the team has never seen anything like the star, whose pattern of light is deemed highly irregular.
The star dims inexplicably every couple of years, and even such activity is not attributed by the astronomy team to orbiting planets. The researchers have also ruled out comets or debris from an asteroid impact.
Being a mature star, KIC 8462852 has a light pattern volatility that cannot be credited to extra dust clouds — and therefore a high amount of infrared light — that occurs in a young star.
The paper, which Dr. Boyajian's team submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal, explained that the star could not possibly be influenced by the light from neighboring stars, given the great distance that exists between them.
Their conclusion: the likely source of such strange light is a giant mass of particles floating around KIC 8462852, which behaves outside the expected action of orbiting bodies.
Some experts also speculate that the weird occurrence indicates an "alien megastructure," a term from Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright. He believes it could be what an alien population would have potentially built for harnessing solar energy.
Wright said that, while aliens should "always be the very last hypothesis" to consider, the unusual light is something to be expected from an extraterrestrial civilization.
Dr. Boyajian teamed up with Wright and Andrew Siemion, SETI Research Center director at the University of California, Berkeley, with the target of pointing a radio dish at the star and seeing if it emits radio waves at frequencies linked to a technological phenomenon.
Once a considerable amount of radio waves is detected, the team will follow up with the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico to determine whether they are coming from a technological source, such as those from Earth's radio station network.
The first observation is hoped to be conducted in January, with a follow-up next fall or sooner.