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Did We Just Discover An Alien Civilization?

NASA’s Kepler space telescope detects data from distant star KIC8462852 that may hint at intelligent life…

Did NASA's Kepler space telescope uncover data that hints at alien life beyond Earth?

It’s an unremarkable patch of night sky to the naked eye, the area surrounding the blandly named star KIC8462852. But today the Earth’s most powerful radio telescopes are pointed toward it, listening for an echo of intelligent life. Thanks to a tiny flicker of light that may upend everything we think we know about the universe.

In our October/November issue of Mysterious Ways, editor Evan Miller writes about the powerful spiritual connectedness, the so-called “overview effect,” felt by astronauts in space (“The Final Frontier?” page 8). Space Shuttle veteran Story Musgrave told us that from what he’s experienced hanging out among the stars, he’s certain life exists beyond our planet:

“We’re still hung up on the Copernican idea that we’re the center of the universe. We’re not. Imagine there are 10 to the 29th power stars… my God, how many are we talking about? It gets big! And then you say we’re the only smart living thing?”

The latest discovery by NASA’s Kepler space telescope might prove Story right. Kepler is designed to detect planets around a star by measuring the tiny, periodic dips in brightness that occur whenever those planets pass in front. But astronomers don’t believe the dips in light around KIC8462852 are planets.

For one thing, there are way too many dips in such a short time—for a star that old, orbiting objects should have spread out or combined, not remain clustered so tightly. The objects form a structure far bigger than any known planet. And the dips come at irregular intervals, not what you’d expect from orbiting planets or asteroids.

While no one’s jumping to any conclusions yet, an interesting hypothesis has been raised—what if this is some sort of artificial alien megastructure?

Dyson spheres, enormous structures around a star that would collect solar energy, have been imagined by both science fiction authors and astronomers as one necessary element to a highly-advanced civilization capable of interstellar travel. The thinking goes, if a civilization has been around longer than us, it may have reached the point of building such a structure to fulfill its energy needs, which would be visible from light years away and exhibit characteristics much like those of KIC8462852.

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Regardless of what we ultimately find out, the discovery reminds us of just how little of the universe we know, how much there is for us to explore. We can’t be satisfied with just the little spinning rock we call Earth. Whatever exists out there, Story, for one, believes it’s all connected by one, all-powerful force. “When you get up there you find out, see what is going on. I guess your view of the heavens is a little wider too. You’re seeing more of the cosmos so in those terms you’re seeing more of God.”

It’s a good time to follow Story’s advice, like Evan did, and spend an evening staring up at the stars, feeling a little bit of that awe and wonder the astronauts felt, from your own backyard.

Check out Evan’s article in our October/November issue, and his Q&A with Story Musgrave here. Let us know what you feel when you look up at the stars. Are there aliens up there? Would they be fans of Mysterious Ways? Unfortunately, we can’t send intergalactic gift subscriptions.

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