NASA's planet-finding Spitzer Telescope has picked up infrared light in a pattern that suggests a giant lump of material is forming in an otherwise smooth disk of debris around a star. Is somebody building an Orbital?
Above you can see a gorgeous rendition of what Spitzer saw, by a NASA artist, showing what is happening. Often disks of debris form around stars, and over millions of years solidify into lumps that turn into planets. In the case of young star LRLL 31, astronomers observed the lump forming within weeks - extremely unusual behavior. They speculate that this unusual pattern is probably caused by a companion planet or star whose gravitational pull is distorting the disk.
Astronomer James Muzerolle of Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute helped to discover the phenomenon, and will be publishing about it in Astrophysical Journal Letters. He said:
We don't know if planets have formed, or will form, but we are gaining a better understanding of the properties and dynamics of the fine dust that could either become, or indirectly shape, a planet. This is a unique, real-time glimpse into the lengthy process of building planets.
He discovered the phenomenon when he and his team noticed that the intensity of infrared light coming from the disk was changing dramatically over time - sometimes it would change a lot over just one week. They surmise that the change in intensity might come from more light being reflected by the disk's large lump as it passed behind its star (behind its star relative to Earth, that is).
Still, doesn't it seem kind of weird that this planet or star or whatever just wandered into the orbit of LRLL 31 so recently? And is already changing the shape of the star's accretion disk? Obviously a better explanation is that an alien civilization is building an orbital or other enormous space structure - the "planet" or "star" is actually their alien technology shaping matter together into a vast habitat for billions of aliens. Or maybe they'll make dozens of these "lumps" and turn them into generation ships. Mozorolle and his team may actually be catching a glimpse of the biggest engineering project the Earth has ever seen.