In space nobody can hear you dream: Or can they?
Something is not quite right with the poetically named KIC 8462852, a star situated in the outer boondocks of the ‘Milky Way’. It seems that something is periodically blocking the light from this object from reaching telescopes on earth and it’s not a planet.
Many theories have been put forward, but one of them in particular has made the media sit up and take notice. Could the bizarre behaviour of this celestial body be the result of alien technology in orbit around it? Is this evidence of an advanced civilisation harnessing the power of its nearby star? It seems mainstream science is giving this some serious consideration.
2015 is already shaping up to be a a pivotal year in human history. It has been a year of new achievements in exploration and potentially monumental discoveries. After all, 2015 did begin with astronomers cataloguing their 1000th alien planet and it didn’t stop there.
So far we have seen a man-made craft land on a Duck shaped comet, found unexplained bright spots on a ‘Dwarf Planet’ called Ceres, spied cliffs on Mercury, oceans on Enceledus, polar winds on Titan, photographed Pluto’s inexplicable blue skies and found salt water on Mars, not to mention the fact that Jupiter’s red spot is shrinking.
Is there more to come? Will this also be the year that humankind’s deep yearning for intergalactic company is finally sated?
Will we finally answer one of our deepest questions? Is our existence the result of some cosmic accident? Or are the processes that led to intelligent life emerging on earth common throughout the universe? Who among us hasn’t looked at the heavens and wondered whether alien eyes gaze upon the same patch of space?
The ‘Drake equation’, which calculates the likely volume of advanced technological civilizations in our galactic neighbourhood, has led many to argue that it is statistically unlikely that ours is the only oasis of life in the vastness of the cosmos. However, if the Universe is teeming with life, then it’s been keeping its self incredibly quiet up to now. Could all that be about to change and would it really matter if it did?
It takes the light from KIC 8462852 so long to reach earth that, even if we were able to confirm it was another advanced species, they may well have become extinct by now. Their ‘technology’ may have decayed with them.
Surely it’s too far away for us to visit them or conduct a dialogue. Any communication would require deciphering and it could take generations to fathom its meaning. The vast majority of people inhabiting earth are surely consumed with everyday questions of making ends meet and, sadly for some, the art of survival. Should we really bother ourselves with a quest for ‘first contact’? Of course we should.
Curiosity is a fundamental human trait. It’s true that our search for resources in other lands or beyond the horizon has its roots in Dawkins selfish gene. However, our sense of wonder stretches way beyond this and encompasses questions about how nature works, how and why we got here and what, if anything, all of this means. Human beings are explorers who enjoy the journey every bit as much as the destination.
Exploration often uncovers riches we never set out to find in the first place. If anyone asks you “what has space travel ever done for us?” Just remind them of their satellite t.v. subscription, or point to the mobile phone they use. You could even ask them if they have ever needed a MRI scan or if they use a ‘sat-nav’ in their car. Of course there are far more benefits than this, but you get my point.
If NASA was to find evidence of even microbial life on an extra-terrestrial world, it would have profound implications for science and philosophy. However, where they to discover an advanced alien civilisation; it would be hard to imagine any aspect of human life that wouldn’t be affected.
I don’t believe the world’s religions would crumble in the face of such a discovery. They have after all accommodated many scientific discoveries that call into question the basic tenets of their belief systems. When it comes to sciences greatest triumphs, the response of religion is to simply incorporate them into ‘God’s Plan’ or attempt to discredit, or worse persecute, the scientists who make them.
Maybe, though, the realisation that beings, far more advanced than ourselves, inhabit our own galaxy will spur us on as a species. Think about it. What sort of civilisation would be capable of constructing technology to harness the power of a star?
They would surely have managed to solve many of the problems we face today. To create such ‘mega-structures’ would require planetary cooperation on a scale never seen in human history. What social and economic systems have they developed? How have they achieved such a cohesive society? How have they survived long enough to discover the science that made all of that possible? Why haven’t they been destroyed by their technology or some environmental catastrophe?
Suddenly the idea that the way we live here on earth is the only way would be open to serious challenge. We would have definitive proof that progress on an unimagined scale is possible. Even if we couldn’t directly ask this civilisation for its secrets; it would almost certainly prompt us to begin looking for new solutions to our problems and ways of living together.
It is for these reasons that I dream that all attempts at a natural explanation for the strange behaviour of KIC 8462852 break down. I hope with all my heart that the alien hypothesis turns out to be true. Maybe, just maybe there’s another being on a distant world who feels the same way. What an incredible thought.