Sunday, June 4, 2017

Did Tabby's Star Ingest an Exoplanet?

Secular dimming of KIC 8462852 following its consumption of a planet


Metzger et al

The Kepler-field star KIC 8462852, an otherwise apparently ordinary F3 main-sequence star, showed several highly unusual dimming events of variable depth and duration. Adding to the mystery was the discovery that KIC 8462852 faded by 14 per cent from 1890 to 1989, as well as by another 3 per cent over the 4 yr Kepler mission. Following an initial suggestion by Wright & Sigurdsson, we propose that the secular dimming behaviour is the result of the inspiral of a planetary body or bodies into KIC 8462852, which took place ∼10–104 yr ago (depending on the planet mass). Gravitational energy released as the body inspirals into the outer layers of the star caused a temporary and unobserved brightening, from which the stellar flux is now returning to the quiescent state. The transient dimming events could then be due to obscuration by planetary debris from an earlier partial disruption of the same inspiralling bodies, or due to evaporation and outgassing from a tidally detached moon system. Alternatively, the dimming events could arise from a large number of comet- or planetesimal-mass bodies placed on to high-eccentricity orbits by the same mechanism (e.g. Lidov–Kozai oscillations due to the outer M-dwarf companion) responsible for driving the more massive planets into KIC 8462852. The required high occurrence rate of KIC 8462852-like systems that have undergone recent major planet inspiral event(s) is the greatest challenge to the model, placing large lower limits on the mass of planetary systems surrounding F stars and/or requiring an unlikely probability to catch KIC 8462852 in its current state.

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