KIC 8462852 made headlines when volunteers spotted sudden, anomlaous dips in its light. Also known as Tabby’s Star, Penn State’s Dr. Jason Wright suggested this might be evidence of an alien megastructure. A mainstay of science fiction, megastructures are objects constructed on a planetary or stellar scale. It’s an interesting idea since Tabby’s Star isn’t young, ruling out protoplanetary disks as the cause. Mainstream media went off the deep end with talk of aliens and first contact, but the loyal opposition went a bit nuts too. After a cursory optical and radio scan of Tabby’s Star by SETI, skeptics are acting vindicated, crowing how there are no aliens, never will be, and it’s just comets. Case closed. Since we can’t directly image Tabby’s Star, saner minds are left guessing the true nature of this phenomenon.
Just when you thought it was safe to peek through your telescope, there’s a vanishingly small chance mainstream media’s going to cry aliens again. Markus Janson, and a few friends, spotted a circumbinary disk around the faint binary star AK Sco. One theory proposes we’re looking at a ring system, but there aren’t any gaps in the rings to be seen. Another explanation is these might be spiral arms moving in opposite directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise, but their symmetry defies explanation.
Most likely the disk is natural, but it is weird and important. Discoveries like AK Sco and Tabby’s Star may be an example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Never heard of it before? You’re probably going to hear about it again real soon. Baader-Meinhof is when you encounter something unusual or unique seemingly at random, then suddenly examples of it show up everywhere. No one’s certain if it’s a bias, quirk of our pattern matching algorithms, or synchronicity, but it may be key to spying aliens hard at work expanding their civilization. Perhaps, in a few decades, we’ll detect so many inhabited systems, humans will wonder why we thought we were alone in the first place.