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A Saturn-Like Ringed Planet May Be Behind Tabby’s Star Mystery

One of the strangest stories in the astronomical world over the last few years has been the enduring saga of the star KIC8462852, better known as “Tabby’s Star” based on the astronomer who discovered it. The star has drawn the attention of stargazing scientists recently due to its unique and peculiar habit of dimming dramatically from time to time, sometimes by as much as 20% before returning to its original lumosity. All sorts of theories have been proposed for the star’s unique dimming phenomenon, from orbiting an “alien megastructure” to speculation that the star may be “digesting a planet.” Whatever the cause is, Tabby’s Star shows no signs of stopping its peculiar behavior.

An artist's depiction of Tabby's Star

An artist’s depiction of Tabby’s Star

Late last year, researchers believed they might have solved the mystery of Tabby’s Star by claiming that specific phase transitions were causing the star to experience cycles of cooling and heating. However, a new theory published in the open source journal arXiv claims that the behavior of Tabby’s Star could be explained by a much less exotic explanation. According to a team of astronomers from the University of Antioquia in Colombia, the periodic dimming of the star could be caused by a ringed Saturn-like planet passing in front of the star.

The hypothetical planets rings could obscure the stars light as they pass in front of it.

The hypothetical planet’s rings could obscure the star’s light as they pass in front of it.

The dimming of Tabby’s Star is not consistent. At times, the star dims dramatically, other times very subtly. These discrepancies could be due to rings of different densities passing in front of the star, or perhaps by the different orientations of the rings as the planet tilts on its axis. Planetary exorings often form around a planet’s equator; as those planets tilt, the rings can go from being very visible to near invisible depending on an observer’s perspective.

Ringed planets can look drastically different to a fixed observer based on their orientation.

Ringed planets can look drastically different to a fixed observer based on their orientation.

While this theory is already gaining traction, it’s still just that: a theory. Tabby’s Star still remains one of the most intriguing mysteries in space. Even if it proves not to be a Dyson sphere, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other megastructures out there waiting to be discovered, right?