So this is interesting. Beginning in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope began looking at approximately 150,000 stars for signs of objects orbiting with some recognizable pattern in an attempt to find exo-planets. When digging through the data, however, something interesting appeared.
According to this article at The Atlantic, because the process of sifting through all the data captured by Kepler needed more human eyes to help analyze the data, the Planet Hunters program was started, which recruited citizen scientists to help sift through the data.
The article notes that in 2011, one interesting star, the most interesting star, if you will, was flagged multiple times as both “interesting” and “Bizarre” by those citizen scientists.
The star was interesting because it appeared to have a large mass of objects orbiting it at a close range, much like a young star with new planets forming would have. Except this isn’t a new planet - it’s mature, and there is no dust cloud or disc around the star that would signal such a process or give off extra infrared light.
The program is officially investigating natural causes, but of the 150,000 stars watched by Kepler, this is the only one with such interesting light patterns. Tabetha Boyajian, a post-doctorate at Yale, confirmed that she was considering “other” causes as well:
When I spoke to Boyajian on the phone, she explained that her recent paper only reviews “natural” scenarios. “But,” she said, there were “other scenarios” she was considering.
Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.
“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.” [emphasis added]
The teams are now working with SETI and drawing up plans to have dish time dedicated to look for signs of unnatural radio signals that might provide further evidence of unnatural causes for Kepler’s findings.