There have been a few stories lately when scientists and other suit-and-tie types have been unwilling to say aliens aren’t behind one thing or another – which I guess is the safest course, because no one likes to be proven wrong.
I mean, if a situation actually arose in which aliens were discovered, I doubt people would be running around pointing fingers at all of the folks who said aliens were a fantasy. But what do I know.
…But back to the story at hand, and the hundred-plus stars that have disappeared from the map.
Yes, it turns out that the night sky, which has remained static enough to guide seamen and pirates and explorers for eons, is changing.
The Vanishing and Appearing Sources during a Century of Observations Project (VASCO) compares 70-year-old surveys with recent images of the night sky to document what has changed, and after years of painstaking work (there are a lot of stars, after all), they’ve published their results in the Astronomical Journal.
The 100-odd stars that were documented to have disappeared could represent short-lived flashes in the night, or they could be actual stars that disappeared.
The researchers hope their results, and results to come, will be relevant to astronomy and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
“VASCO is a project that is both a SETI project and a conventional astrophysics project,” explained Beatriz Villarroel, a researcher at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics and one of the report’s coauthor. “Even if we do SETI and have SETI questions, we are also interested in publishing other results that we find along the way.”
The disappeared pinpricks of light are curious because when stars die, their last burst of glory is usually hard to miss – people saw and wrote about them long before there were telescopes – so if they can also just wink out without fanfare, well, we want to know why.
And to that end, some of the researchers don’t think we should rule out something like another advanced civilization blocking stars with their solar panels to gather energy.
For her part, Villarroel is on board.
“If we should look for aliens, maybe we should actually look for something that would be truly absurd to find.”
The research is being conducted by a team of 20 astronomers and astrophysicists who have compared 70 years worth of sky images taken by the US Naval Observatory and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.
They used software to analyze 600 million light sources that should have appeared in the earliest and most recent sets of data. At first, the number of potential missing stars numbered around 150,000, but was winnowed down to 24,000 after some additional cross-referencing.
In the end, Villarroel is confident the 100 stars they presented are, indeed, missing.
“We have done the best work to remove anything that resembles any artifacts.”
If they are – or were – brief flashes that just happened to show up on the old US Navy surveys, they were likely red dwarf flares, variable stars that dimmed, or the afterglow of a gamma ray burst.
If they really were enduring light sources that disappeared without fanfare, Villarroel – and others – would be much more excited. SETI enthusiasts have speculated about how alien civilizations with advanced engineering power could shield a star from view.”You would have to exclude all-natural things, and then there might also be new natural phenomena that we don’t know about can be more exciting.”
If this is totally blowing your skirt up, the scientists at VASCO plan to implement a citizen science project that lets civilians help search through the rest of the 150,000 candidates.
You know you want to be the one who discovers the spot where technologically advanced aliens are hiding….
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