Archaeology has gone interstellar.
The peculiar behavior of KIC 8462852—a star 1,500 light-years from Earth that is prone to irregular dimming—has prompted widespread speculation on the Internet that it is host to an “alien megastructure,” perhaps a vast array of orbiting solar panels.
Scientists have pointed out various natural, non-alien phenomena that could be causing the stellar light show, but the SETI crowd isn’t taking any chances. Astronomers have begun using a radio telescope, the Allen Telescope Array, to detect possible signals in the vicinity of KIC 8462852.
But, the astronomers might be eavesdropping on a tomb.
For years, SETI researchers have argued that we can narrow our search for alien intelligence by looking for telltale signs of large, sophisticated structures built by advanced civilizations. They call this “cosmic archaeology.”
Yet, even if we were to find such artifacts, there’s no guarantee that the civilizations that created them are still around. Floating in space, abandoned for millennia, these objects could be the interstellar equivalent of the statues at Easter Island or the Egyptian Pyramids.
In fact, we might confront the morbid scenario that intelligent life periodically emerges on other worlds, but has an unfortunate tendency to self-destruct.
Sadly, it’s not implausible, given the devastation we’ve wrought during our relatively brief span as the dominant species on this planet.
That’s why a trio of scientists recently published a guide to help astronomers detect alien apocalypses—whether it’s the chemical signature of a world filled with rotting corpses, the radioactive aftermath of nuclear warfare, or the debris left over from a Death Star scenario where an entire planet gets blown to bits.
Call it SEETI, the Search for Extinct Extraterrestrial Intelligence.