By Chris Lintott, Brooke Simmons

Boyajian et al. (2015) report that the star KIC 8462852 has undergone a recent series of rapid, significant dips in brightness which Wright et al. (2015) explain by suggesting the star is occluded by an 'alien megastructure'. Schaefer (2016) note the star has been dimming for at least a century; here we use these observations to calculate the time taken to construct a 'Dyson sphere' that will eventually occlude 100% of the star's flux.

We assume our observations cover a typical period in a constant construction rate. Given the current B magnitude of 12.262 and a decrease in flux of 0.165 mag (or 14.099% of total observed flux) per century, an alien civilisation requires at least 7.09 centuries to occlude 100% of the observable surface of its star. Thus, if this time is typical, an alien civilisation capable of constructing such a structure requires a minimum of 1400 Earth years to do so.

On Earth, we observe that it is difficult to gain political support for infrastructure projects lasting longer than one election cycle, and therefore predict elections in this alien civilisation occur less than once a millennium.

The authors acknowledge help from Dr Chris North (via Twitter) in the preparation of this paper.


This is just a lower limit on construction time for this star. Construction times may well vary depending on the host star type (smaller M-stars might see quicker construction times than KIC 8462852 which is a larger higher mass F3 star) and other factors such as availability of construction material and the productivity of the local construction industry.

David Clements · 15 Jan, 2016

How does this paper, change the lower limits on the lengths of the election cycle?

Niall Deacon · 28 Jan, 2016

Looks like it will take at 100k years, given the new data. Which means election cycles must last at least that long. Quite an unusual civilization.

Samuel Klein · 9 Feb, 2016

Large projects are much simpler to keep on track for long periods in totalitarian regimes where election cycles are irrelevant (c.f. the pyramids) . Given that leaders in an advanced technological society may be effectively immortal, 1,400 years for a single project is quite possible.

David Vandervort · 27 Apr, 2016
Please log in to add a comment.

Chris Lintott, Brooke Simmons



Published: 14 Jan, 2016

Cc by