Then What are 1000 Pictures Worth?

Reports of the dimming of the star KIC 8462852 have been debunked, causing SETI to revise its claims to have proven the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. The news also caused a crash in Appalachian coal futures, as CO2 sequestration speculators cancelled orders.

One insider, speaking anonymously to avoid being labelled as a “Koch-head,” revealed “when my employers were convinced that no earthly engineering team could dig an ocean through the Rockies, they were hoping that the ETs would do the work in the course of removing the sub-surface CO2 stockpiles they were hoping to establish in New Mexico and Arizona. No ETs, no CO2 sequestration, no last-grasp strip-mining in Appalachia. Oh well, there’s always that land trade for the Panama Canal!”

More seriously: it turns out that the original study of KIC 8462852, drawing upon analysis of old photographic plates, had failed to account for differences in the equipment used to capture the pictures. By comparing the apparent brightness of KIC 8462852 to that of other stars in the plates, it was determined that the the relative brightness had not changed.

Systematic effects (related to the design of the experimental system) were also a large factor in fueling the “cold-fusion” hype that I got involved in debunking back in the ’80s.

Our Extraterrestrial Saviors

Astronomers tout a “high-frequency” (every couple of years) flickering in the light emanating from the star KIC 8462852 as possible proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. The extent and frequency of the flickering rule out the normal cause of such variation: temporary occlusion of the star by a planet in its orbit. This leaves open the possibility that the occlusion is due to a planetary-scale artificial structure.

The possibility of such structures was first popularized by Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” novels. However, the stresses on a ring encircling a star are inconceivably large – no material imaginable would be able to sustain the strain.

Exotechnologists thus turned their attention to another possibility: the spread of huge tree-like lifeforms rooted in Jupiter-size planets. Natural seasonal cycles would cause the density of the canopy to vary over time, thus explaining the flickering.

Given the huge quantities of carbon dioxide transferred to the stellar wind from such growth, CO2 sequestration, long pooh-poohed as prohibitively expensive, now appears to have long-term market potential. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is leading commercialization efforts, beginning with leasing of the world’s largest radio telescopes in the hope that CO2 deliveries can be arranged before global warming exterminates life on Earth.

The SETI program, in reaction to this plan, reasons that “extraterrestrial intelligence must exist, because it is impossible that intelligence not exist somewhere in the universe.”