Aside from the curious interstellar visitor ‘Oumuamua and the ongoing quest to identify fast radio bursts, one of the most mysterious astronomical stories of the past few years has been the saga of Tabby’s Star. In 2016, astronomer Tabetha Boyajian spotted bizarre light patterns coming from the distant star KIC8462852. Something appeared to be causing the star to periodically dim, leading to speculation that it may be surrounded by a massive alien “megastructure.” In the nearly three years since then, astronomers have gathered enough data to now believe that the more likely reason for the dimming behavior is that the star is surrounded by dense clouds of cosmic dust.
That doesn’t mean all astronomers are ready to give up on the hope that Tabby’s Star might be home to an alien civilization. SETI astronomers are currently scanning the planet for any signs of laser activity. While none has been found, the study has provided scientists with a wealth of data and methodologies for carrying out similar research in the future in the search for alien life.
To add to the growing body of data concerning mysteriously dimming stars, an international team of astronomers has just published a study of a new star, EPIC 204376071, found a galactic stone’s throw from Earth just 440 light-years away. EPIC 204376071 has been observed to dim by up to 80 percent for an entire day. The researchers still aren’t sure what may be making the star’s light dim, but their leading suspicions are a cloud of dust or a ring of cosmic debris.
Naturally, alien megastructures have already been ruled out, because how dare scientists acknowledge the possibility, however small, that there may yet be truly awesome left things to discover in the universe? While neither EPIC 204376071 nor Tabby’s Star are the extraterrestrial smoking gun we’ve all been waiting for, their discoveries suggest that any day now, we may stumble across the one to change everything in a strangely dimming star far across the universe. Will it be written off as cosmic dust, stuck in an academic journal somewhere, and forgotten about? It's time we take the search for extraterrestrial life seriously, and studies like this one are just the site for such bold thinking.