This month’s issue of Scientific American has a good article summarizing the mystery of Tabby’s Star. (it’s behind a paywall, but this SciAm blog post has a rundown of the discovery). I remember talking briefly about Tabby’s Star in fall of 2015 during a reading. I remember thinking at the time that the mystery of it all would be batted away soon enough, that the star’s mysterious dimming pattern would be explained mundanely–perhaps invoking some novel phenomenon which would excite astrophysicists, but which would not become the subject of any science fiction stories to come.
A year and a half later, no such invocation has yet appeared. Humanity has discovered a star whose light emissions defy every existing rational explanation. That’s big. For me as a science fiction writer, it’s exciting to hear serious astronomers considering the possibility of the star’s mysterious dimming as the result of orbiting alien megastructures. I have to remind myself that the extraterrestrial intelligence explanation is really no more plausible than any of the explanations that do not depend on aliens–swarms of comets, a circumstellar disc, an orbiting black hole.
Whatever the explanation turns out to be–and I will say here what I said in 2015: I don’t think it’s aliens–the mere fact that an alien megastructures explanation is being considered seriously fills me with glee. It is the nature of human intelligence to reach out in all directions, seeking fellowship with like minds. Whether we do this by putting up a profile on OkCupid or a handprint on the walls of Lascaux, we are seeking fellows. I wish that Tabby’s Star, over a thousand light years away, is flocked with gigantic solar panels, because such a project could only be undertaken by creatures who–however more powerful than we they may be–think in ways that we can recognize.
Photo Credit: “Stormy Signals,” by Andy Smith
Much of my own fiction has revolved around this idea. Perhaps all of it has. But two stories of mine especially, “A Murmuration of Starlings” and “Full Fathom Five,” are devoted to the longing of intelligent creatures to connect with one another. And I know I have not exhausted the subject–perhaps there is another such story slouching towards the Bethlehem of my keyboard this year.