Tabby’s Star: It Just Keeps Getting Stranger

Back in February I wrote an update to the fascinating story of Tabby’s Star. Tabby’s Star is the informal name of a most unusual phenomenon. During observations of the star by the Kepler space telescope it was noticed that as much as 20% of the star’s light was temporarily blocked on two occasions in quick succession just two years apart. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. We’ve certainly seen stars periodically dim before, that was what Kepler was designed to do, but when a planet passes in front of its parent star it would normally only block a few percent of the light, not a fifth.

In my update I wrote about the discovery of observations of Tabby’s Star going back to the 1890s which revealed that 20% of the star’s light had been lost over the century. This, again was a never before seen phenomenon. The take home message was that this was just plain weird. No current model or idea is able to explain these phenomena and so more data was required.

Well, we now have new data and… it just got even more weird. An in depth analysis of all Kepler’s data for the star showed that in just three years the brightness diminished by nearly 1%.

What we now have, then, is a star that has steadily got dimmer over time, but at three different rates, and is also capable of losing and then regaining 20% of its total brightness. Explaining just one of these features would be difficult. Having a sensible solution to the whole combination is eluding all involved.

The take home message this time, then, is umm… that weird doesn’t begin to cover it.

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