Could Tabby’s Star have eaten a planet?


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A new theory has been proposed by astronomers to explain the unprecedented dimming of Tabby’s Star, and it isn’t an alien civilization.

If Tabby’s star devoured a planet in the past, the planet’s energy would have made the star temporarily brighten, then gradually dim to its original state. The bigger the planet was, the longer the star would take to dim. Depending on the size of the planet, this event could have happened anywhere between 200 and 10,000 years ago.

As the planet fell into its star, it could have been ripped apart or had its moons stripped away, leaving clouds of debris orbiting the star in eccentric orbits. Every time the debris passes between us and the star, it would block some light, making the star seem to blink.

If true, this theory would suggest that such events can happen more than scientists has expected. Moreover, this theory can be tested during future observations when the star experiences its next dimming.

6 comments

  • LocalFluff

    One better wait until the dimmings are confirmed by a second observation. Tabby’s star is most likely just some kind of bug in the Kepler telescope or its data flow. A 22% dip is easy to observe from small ground telescopes.

  • Jake

    LocalFluff
    There have already been multiple observations, over a course of decades. There are cataloged observations of this star going back to 1900’s, and possibly even earlier. There is in fact an overall dimming of this star going on, and at different rates. This is the best explanation I have heard yet though. It will be interesting to see if these new telescopes coming online this year can help shed any light on this matter. (cheesy physics joke :)

  • LocalFluff

    @Jake
    No, only one single telescope has observed dimmings of that star. Although these dimmings would be easy to observe even with a hobbyist’s telescope in the backyard, it has never been observed on this or any other star. It is a telescope malfunction of some kind. Although all eyes have been on that star for years now, no anomaly has ever been observed, other than by Kepler. It is a very normal F5V star. There is no astrophysical explanation, the only explanation is that the observations were somehow flawed. It ids standard procedures to wait for a confirmation from a second telescope. But in this case a handful of astronomers have gone completely mad and make obscene claims. Sensationally trying to ride on the huge exoplanetary success of Kepler, but actually they are putting Kepler in bad light (pun).

    The 100 year dimming is questionable because of the difficulties with comparing the star’s light strength between old photographic plates. Different kind of chemicals have been used over the years,being differently sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Also, the photo chemicals have degraded differently over the years. Different observatories were used, some with documented defects, others without documentation of their defects, and the weather has varied. Since the big dimmings have lasted several hours to a couple of days, a single exposure would easily reveal a 22% dimming, as well as a much smaller dito.

    And, the way, the timing between the three dimmings is EXACTLY two Earth years, to the day. The telescope is orbiting the Sun every 372 days. So it looks as if it is a software problem somehow related to a calendar or a regular routine taking place on Earth.

  • LocalFluff

    Unless Kepler K2 repeats the malfunction in a way that can be traced, the memory of this ridiculous episode in public astronomy will slowly fade away with the years and be forgotten. No canali on Mars this time either.

  • LocalFluff

    To hit the dead door nail further, the dimmings all began when Kepler was turned the same way. At the end they continued although being turned 90 degrees again, so it cannot be a part of the CCD being broken. Rather the malfunction was triggered when turning the telescope. It turns four times per year in order to keep the Solar panels and the heat shield towards the Sun as it orbits.

    So not only is it not an astrophysical phenomena, it has also not been confirmed by a second telescope although that would be easy, and there are funny coincidences with Earth’s orbital period and the telescope turning events. This is a no go to begin with.

  • DeeperThought

    The 20% dimmings may or may not have been observed by other telescopes, but the general dimming over time has been confirmed by various means.

    Beyond that, the fact that the 20% dimming events have only been observed by Kepler on this singular star makes it unlikely that it’s an equipment malfunction. It had been picking them up long before it was used to focus specifically on that star and continues to pick them up today. This is not likely an equipment malfunction.

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