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Space anomaly gets extraterrestrial intelligence experts' attention

Space anomaly gets extraterrestrial intelligence experts' attention
By John Newsome, CNN
Updated 12:02 PM ET, Fri October 16, 2015
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(CNN)The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institutehas its eyes -- and soon possibly one of the United States' premier telescopes -- focused on an anomaly that some astronomers can't quite explain.

Users on the online astronomy crowdsourcing interfacePlanet Hunters discovered a peculiar light pattern between the Cygnus and Lyra constellations a few years ago. The group uses publicly available data gathered by NASA's Kepler Telescope, which has been tasked with finding Earth-like planets by searching for the periodic dimming of stars that might suggest such a planet is passing by.
After a number of users noticed the peculiarity, it was sent to the group's advisory science team, which includes Yale postdoctoral astronomy fellow Tabetha Boyajian.

"It did definitely spark some lively discussions on the talk boards. We scrolled through the discussion boards and superusers, and they let us know that there's something we should be watching out for," Boyajian says.

"What was unusual about that was the depth of the light dips, up to 20% decrease in light, and the timescales (of light variation) -- a week to a couple of months."

So what's the explanation? Could it be from a swarm of comets? Some sort of intergalactic phenomenon that Earthbound scientists haven't discovered? Or an effect of planet-sized structures built by some sort of alien civilization?
Jason Wright, a Penn State astronomy professor, saw Boyajian's data and can't quite explain it. But in a post Thursday to his website, he cautioned against jumping to conclusions -- as some apparently have -- that intelligent beings far away are behind this oddity.

"My philosophy of SETI," Wright wrote, referring to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, "is that you should reserve your alien hypothesis as a last resort." He also cited "Cochran's Commandment to planet hunters ... : Thou shalt not embarrass thyself and they colleagues by claiming false planets.

"It would be such a big deal if true, it's important that you be absolutely sure before claiming you've detected something, lest everybody lose credibility," the astronomer added. "Much more so for SETI."

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