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In my previous question, I asked how much mass the Sun would have to lose in order for Saturn's orbital velocity to be its escape velocity.

The answer proved to be somewhat unexpected - when the Sun loses about half of its mass, every planet will escape from the Sun's remaining gravity at about the same time.

So this is the promised follow-up question:

What plausible, believably feasible (not necessarily absolutely physically valid) method could be posited as a way for the Sun to lose 50% of its mass, without going through some catastrophic process?

Criteria and limitations:

A. Must occur within a millennium or two.

B. Should not involve intervention of some 'superior alien intelligence', but must be derived from some plausible natural event. (Somewhat lenient on this, but any alien intervention must be completely independent of the Solar System and not require any presence in the Solar System. That is, extraneous 'spooky action at a distance')

C. Must not create any phenomena that would have devastating consequences on life on the planets (i.e.: no radiation, excessive heat, energy surges) except for the diminishing of the Sun's current Solar contributions. The Sun just reduces in size, energy, and mass, but otherwise functions normally.

D. Once the planets are clear of the system, what happens to the sun thereafter is irrelevant.

E. The removed mass of the Sun must be done in such a way that the removed mass no longer contributes to the gravitational effects of the Sun.

F. The current position of the sun as the center of the Solar System can not be altered (Newton's Laws must be enforced).

G. The ejected mass can not itself become an alternative gravitational center sufficient to influence the planets, but must be dispersed into the galactic void. However, it is allowable for it to collect again and form a significant gravitational source somewhere else. The ejected mass does not necessarily need to reach escape velocity, but by some effect widely dispersed or otherwise relocated.

H. It is allowable that, if the mass depletion occurs over time, the planetary orbits can correspondingly move away from the Sun until they reach escape velocity, with all attendant effects of doing so permitted.

Assume that the life on the planet is not dependent on energy from the Sun, but on independent locally sourced forms of energy. That is, life on the planet can be supported absent the Sun (No need for Solar light, heat, energy, gravity, or other Solar contributions). With that in mind, if any of these criteria are modified, then the modification must not effect the viability of life on or physical integrity of the planets, in any way.

The method does not necessarily have to be under the control of any intelligent intervention, preferably not from any intervention from within the Solar System. Note, this is not a criteria.

Note this does NOT have a hard science tag. The effect can be caused by some as-yet-unknown but plausible scientific concept.

EDIT

The Solar System does not absolutely have to be our solar system, but my planet-moon combo is based on Saturn or Jupiter. Humans are not a factor, and thus their intelligence and fate is inconsequential.

Another EDIT

Please also recall that, as the Sun loses mass, its gravity decreases and further mass loss will take less energy. That is, the remaining mass is not as tightly held as the starting mass. This fact may or may not be useful in your answer.

Clarification EDIT

Some may be thrown off by criteria C. The restriction on life is clarified by the later assumption stated after H. As long as the planets remain physically intact and maintain their integrity and general composition, criteria C is met. The planets have the same general structure, chemistry, and geological features.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 27 '18 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ You don't....... $\endgroup$ – Peter A. Schneider Sep 28 '18 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ I must admit that I didn't read the whole post (mea culpa) and thus missed the fact that you exclude the main negative side effects from the devastating consequences (the main two being the reduced gravitation and radiation). So yes, if you permit those your problem boils down to some way of siphoning off the solar matter. $\endgroup$ – Peter A. Schneider Sep 29 '18 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ Related: Everyone Dies™. It abounds. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mortensen Sep 30 '18 at 11:57

14 Answers 14

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C. Must not create any phenomena that would have devastating consequences on life on the planets (i.e.: no radiation, excessive heat, energy surges) except for the diminishing of the Sun's current Solar contributions. The Sun just reduces in size, energy, and mass, but otherwise functions normally.

That is not possible, for three reasons.

  1. About a third of the tidal influence on the Earth comes from the sun. Even if Earth would not escape, the tides would be changed globally, too fast to be nice on coastal ecossystems worldwide, which would all be f... Rough-loved. Other neighbouring ecossystems could follow in collapse.

  2. The sun protects planets from interstellar radiation with its solar wind. The fact that Earth's rotation axis is kinda orthogonal to its orbit helps us survive solar flares, which always hit us perpendicularly. Once exposed to interstellar wind, we will all be f.. fried by crazy amounts of radiation coming towards the poles. We don't need to escape the sun for that to happen - merely moving the heliopause in can terminate us.

  3. If a rocky planet surface does not depend on the sun to achieve a life-sustaining temperature, then either it is going through a hadean phase or it is excessively radioactive - neither situation would allow for complex life, maybe not even any life at all.

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't ask if it was possible, and I purposely did not make the question earth-centric or human-centric. Earth and human ecosystems are irrelevant. It is external extinction events that I am concerned with, not internal - making life impossible by Solar 'toxins'. I completely understand that Earth will leave it's 'Goldilocks' zone, and this will certainly effect life, but this is entirely due to the diminishing of the Sun's current Solar contributions. It sucks to be human, but the planet is left intact. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 26 '18 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme tidal effects and perpendicular stellar wind will harm life in any fictional planet as well, independent of them being in a goldilocks zone. $\endgroup$ – Renan Sep 26 '18 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme, you posit an as yet unknown to you natural event reducing a central star by half of it's mass. This is essentially half the mass of the entire solar system, you've required that the missing mass no longer have an effect on planetary orbits, with no dangerous release of release of energy. Even a simple solar flare pointed at a magnetosphere can cause absurd thunderstorms. You are under no obligation to accept this frame challenge, but it is warranted. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Sep 27 '18 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme, perhaps you misunderstood the gist of my comment. You have painted yourself into a corner, you now require handwaving, and the winning solution is now based solely on your subjective acceptance of competing, diametrically opposed criteria. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Sep 27 '18 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme The problem isn't with the "Science Fiction" tag, it is with your constraints C and E. Changing the gravitational effects of the sun is a catastrophic, life-destroying event. You can't have both at the same time - If you change gravity, you destroy life on your planets by wrecking the tides, temperatures, weather and so on. Any physics-savvy reader will point at this and call you out on that. You asked for a "What plausible, believably feasible that do so and so" - you should be ready to accept "can't be done" as an answer, too. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Sep 27 '18 at 13:01
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Wormhole

[A,C,D,E,F,G] A traversalable wormhole would be an excellent mechanism to remove mass from the sun. A wormhole is consistent with general relativity while avoiding all of the pitfalls of violently moving mass from the center of the solar system (which could cause all kinds of orbital perturbations that would be chaotic or even fatal).

[B] Would you consider human construction natural? Perhaps humans build a wormhole. For convenience and efficiency they place it in the inner solar system (perhaps it requires a significant and constant stream of particles to remain stable so it's placed right next to the sun). Either by miscalculation or accident it falls into the sun. Unable to retrieve or destroy the wormhole it is left to silently eat away at the mass of the sun.

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    $\begingroup$ A novel plausible approach. I will allow that the wormhole could have resulted from alien intervention and manipulation, so long as it was not specifically directed at our Solar System. That is, any effects on our Solar System were unintended consequences of alien activity at a distance. It is my desire to keep any intelligent action completely external to the Solar System and completely unintentional. For instance, aliens wanted to 'starlift' material from our Sun for their own purposes, in an environmentally friendly non-destructive way, that left no presence behind, like through a wormhole. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 26 '18 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ However, that is not to say that others seeking an answer to this question might not find your answer regarding human intervention and 'accident' suitable for their needs. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 26 '18 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ And if the other end of the wormhole is stationary, then the matter flow will create a second half-Sun, and halt when the equilibrium is reached at each half-Sun being half the mass of the original Sun, exactly as needed. $\endgroup$ – Alice Sep 28 '18 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ Believe me, I am not ignoring you or your idea. I have picked up on it in another answer, but you deserve full credit for the original concept. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Alice Whether there will be a second star forming at the other end of the wormhole depends on whether you allow gravity to propagate through the wormhole. With gravity, the effect is that you'll only have a single sun with two distinct surfaces. Without gravity, the plasma will shoot out of the wormhole with a speed corresponding to the pressure on the other side (about 250,000,000 bar just outside the sun's core). And you won't have a mass on the other side to hold the plasma back. It will just disperse quickly into space. $\endgroup$ – cmaster Sep 28 '18 at 20:59
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There are a number of ways a star can lose mass, and I think it's worth talking about them:

I think superflares are your best choice if you want the event to occur at the present stage of the star's life. If you are willing to have the star be very young, pick a T Tauri wind and bipolar jets, dramatically enhanced by some unknown factor. If you are willing to have the star be older and more evolved, a strong AGB wind might work.

Let's look at the timescales $\tau_{1/2}$ we'll need for the various processes, in order to lose $0.5M_{\odot}$: $$ \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|}\hline \text{Process} & \text{Evolutionary stage} & \dot{M}\text{ }(M_{\odot}\text{ yr}^{-1}) & \tau_{1/2}\text{ }(\text{years})\\\hline \text{T Tauri wind}^1 & \text{Pre-main sequence} & 10^{-7} & 5\times10^6\\\hline \text{Superflares}^2 & \text{Main sequence} & 10^{-11} & 5\times10^{10}\\\hline \text{G star wind} & \text{Main sequence} & 10^{-14} & 5\times10^{13}\\\hline \text{O star wind}^3 & \text{Main sequence} & 10^{-5} & 5\times10^4\\\hline \text{AGB wind}^4 & \text{Asymptotic giant branch} & 10^{-4} & 5\times10^{3}\\\hline \end{array} $$ 1Lecture notes, Ohio State University
2Osten (2015)
3Cohen et al. (2011)
4Lecture notes, University of Bonn

Your best bet, overall, would be a system with an AGB star rapidly losing mass. Note that I give the time it would take for an O star to lose $0.5M_{\odot}$, but that would only be a small fraction of its total mass - not half. You'd need to extent that timescale by a factor of about 20 for it to lose half of its initial mass.

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  • $\begingroup$ As a note: This is a modification of a section of my answer to your other question. I removed the part there about mass-loss rates and have transferred it here, with some particular modifications. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 26 '18 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate your time and effort to repost, as I had your answer in mind when I posited this new question. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 26 '18 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme I'm glad. I'm going to add some new calculations soon, talking about the necessary timescales to lose the amount of mass you want. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 26 '18 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ I do hope @LarsH posts as an answer. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 26 '18 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ Since it turns out that the mass loss is the same for any planet in any star system, and the solution (50% loss) would apply equally throughout the galaxy, there is no requirement for the answer to be limited to our system. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 26 '18 at 17:46
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The gravitational binding energy of the sun is given by

$$\frac{3 G M^2}{5R}$$

If we ignore the radius component, halving the mass of the sun would involve:

$$\frac{3 \cdot 6.674 \cdot 10^{−11}\;N \cdot kg^{–2} \cdot m^2 \cdot (10^{30}\;kg)^2}{5*695 508\;km}$$

or $5 \cdot 10^{40}\;J$.

The sun emits $3.846 \cdot 10^{26}\;W$ of power, so this is about $10^{14}\;s$ of solar output, or 4 million years give or take.

If the process was 90% efficient it would increase the sun's energy output 1000 fold, frying most of the solar system. Uranus would get 2.5 as much energy per unit area than Earth does now. Objects at 15 AU out would get as much energy from this process as Mercury does now.

No plausible natural event is going to be 90% efficient at getting matter away from the Sun. The Sun is a gravitationally-bound fusion-supported structure. It already generates huge amounts of energy to keep itself supported at its size; getting large amounts of matter out of a Sun is going to be non-trivial effort for a Type-3 civilization.

It would be a project that would, on its scale, equivalent to the energy consumed by the Manhatten Project (which used lots of energy as part of the separation process).

There is no plausible way this at all appears natural. And anyone doing it unnaturally would have to do extreme measures to prevent energy lost as waste heat from cooking the solar system.

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  • $\begingroup$ At the least, I could posit a sudden but permissible by probability event that half of the mass of the Sun suddenly moves from here to there (anywhere else in the universe) without ever being in between through quantum mechanics uncertainty principle and quantum tunneling. No energy calculations required. Arguably plausible, no matter how improbable, and it is my last resort. See theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/10/… for elaboration. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Those events don't violate conservation of energy. The gravitatational binding energy would have to go somewhere. In the set of events where much of the mass of the sun tunnels far away (which are extremely extremely unlikely), the vast vast vast vast vast vast vast majority of them involve a huge amount of heal bleedoff that boils the solar system. The first event actually happening is ridiculously implausible, the second event (somehow not boiling the solar system) makes the first seem ridiculously certain in comparison. And even then, it doesn't appear natural $\endgroup$ – Yakk Sep 27 '18 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ The likelyhood that it happens is so much ridiculously less than an alien intellligence with ridiculous amounts of technology somehow actually doing it becomes almost completely certain. Heck, if you manage to "rule that out" (I'm not sure if any amount of evidence we as humans could process would be sufficient to make the tunneling more likely than an unknown intelligence, the tunneling is so unlikely), by far a more likely reason is that everyone has spontaneously gone insane and is hallucinating exactly the same thing at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Sep 27 '18 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ I am glad you admit that, although extremely improbable, it is not impossible. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ Why does this currently have less than 20% of the votes of the top answer when it's a total showstopper of an answer, far more of an issue than the issues in that answer. Note that even at 99.9999% efficiency you still double solar radiation which would be catastrophic. To meet the initial conditions I would say means 99.999999% efficiency and that would be awfully hard for even alien action to accomplish. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Sep 29 '18 at 2:52
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I'm building up on top of Skek Tek's answer.

First, humans build a pair of wormholes using some handwavium advanced technology. Entering one exit of the wormhole lead directly to the other exit and vice-versa, it is a two-way road. Further, the wormhole is pretty much stable and undestructible and it is also big enough to allow the passage of a very large stellar fleet at once.

The purpose of the wormhole is to allow the humans to explore the galaxy easier. So they send one of the wormholes into an hyperbolic orbit out of the Solar System into a galactic orbit and keep the other near the Sun.

Some time later (possibly a few millenia), due to an accident, miscalculation, sabotage or something else, the wormhole falls into the Sun. As a result, it starts to pump matter to the other end. Since the other side is in intergalactic space and the entering matter don't exit the other end with a velocity large enough to escape, the matter at the other end forms a ball of gas bound by gravity around the wormhole.

Since the wormhole is a two-way device, stellar matter can travel in either direction. This means that its movement would be governed by pressure, gravity and temperature. Matter would flow from the Sun through the wormhole (and some matter would flow back) until both sides have the same amount of matter and an equilibrium is reached.

In the end, we would have a new star in the sky featuring half of the Sun mass and our own Sun would feature the other half of the mass. Further, it would give a really new and more precise definition to the term "Sun twin star".

Alternative scenario: If matter do exit the other side of the wormhole with enough velocity to escape, then the Sun is pretty much doomed. Except if someone or something could destroy/deactivacte/close the wormhole exactly in the mid-way of this proccess, saving the Sun, but with only half of its original mass.

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    $\begingroup$ To clarify, I personally, for the purposes of my story, do not require an explanation of how the wormhole got there, and where it goes, only that it is possible theoretical for a worm hole to somehow appear and devour half the sun. I am satisfied with hand waving the details away, perhaps waving it away as a yet-unknown natural phenomena that we humans just have not yet observed. I like the idea of the equilibrium resulting in a 50-50 split, however. It is a nice artifact to the fact that the mass loss has to be 50%. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ Consider, however, the gravitational effects may travel through wormholes, so if the removed matter bunches up on the other side into another star, the gravitational pull of the sun + wormhole combo will not change. $\endgroup$ – Ed Marty Sep 27 '18 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Ed Marty Your point about gravity travelling through worm holes is intriguing. As far as I know, it is not entirely impossible. After all, you are folding space so that one section is now next to another, and gravitational strength is dependent on proximity. But it does open up a can of 'Law of Unintended Consequences' worms that would have to be hand waved away.. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @EdMarty The squared-distance law of gravity presumes that the space has an euclidean geometry, which is not the case anymore. I think that the perceived gravity would be half of the original Sun gravity because the gravitational power well is now split in two distant sites and although the wormhole allows some gravity from the other side come in, it also allows the same amount of gravity in our side to leak out. This also open some interesting problems, like if you can be shielded from gravity of a massive body by hiding behind a wormhole. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Sep 28 '18 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Victor Stafusa FYI I automatically get notice of any comments attached to my answer, so you do not need to reference me in your comment, but I thank you for the consideration. It is an interesting concept, worth perusing, if I go with the wornhole idea. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 15:59
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If we limit ourselves to known physics, then we are requiring a solar-scale event to occur to this system. Nothing can cause half the mass of a previously stable star to disappear by itself; certainly the stability required for intelligent life to evolve is incompatible with the sudden demise over a millennia.

So some event involving something external to the planetary system must occur, which triggers the outflow of mass.

Pot black

Consider, then, some external body on or close to a collision path with the star. The thing arrives, interacts with the star, and continues out of the system, either triggering a mass loss or taking mass with it (or both). One candidate for this would be a black hole - any actual star-star collision would certainly eject a lot of solar material and sterilise the surface of the planets. A black hole, however, could pass near or through the star, pulling significant chunks of mass out of the star (depending on the mass of the black hole).

Note, however, that as with snooker, momentum would be transferred to the star from the black hole; this could be enough to fulfil the motivating requirement that the planets achieve escape velocity; by moving the star (and dragging the planets to a degree), the planetary dynamics would be changed. If the black hole crossed the system transverse to the current motion of the planet, it would have a strongly different effect on the planet and the star, and could conceivably destabilise the planet's orbit entirely.

This achieves several of the requirements, and if the black hole moved transverse to the plane of the planet's orbit, then the trails of solar mass resulting from the impact would largely miss the planet itself.

Canon the yellow

A very different mechanism which might be conceptually neater would be to start with a binary system (per about half the solar systems we can see), and have a body arrive which knocks one of the two stars out of the system. This would require the two stars to be a good distance apart, but for stable planetary orbits not too far apart.

If the knocked-out star was a black hole, then the planet-dwellers would not even see the sun dim; in fact without a black hole pulling matter from its sister it would perhaps brighten. But a vast proportion of the mass about which the planets were orbiting would be gone.

In this scenario I would argue that the arriving body needs to move as fast as possible; the slower it arrives, the longer it is disrupting the gravitational map of the solar system, and the more likely it is to cause some sudden catastrophe on the planet. A sudden punching arrival of a star pulling a black-hole out would instead leave little time for the existing bodies to adjust. Also the faster it impacts, the more momentum both have to leave the system.

Note that for both bodies to leave the system, the arriving body must be of much higher mass.

Europa

In all these stellar impacts, it is very difficult to construct one which does not just spew stellar material across the planets. A plausible survival story could be a planet or moon like Europa, which has a thick ice surface and likely a water layer beneath. This would protect from a significant range of gas and dust debris, and forms a stronger protection than a magnetosphere. Also, Europa is believed to be heated significantly by the tidal stresses of orbiting a gas giant, which is notable for the story; firstly, because the changing stellar radiation would not be too problematic for the continuation of life as the star dies, but also because it could continue as the gas giant slowly escapes the system to become a rogue planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some good , workable solutions. Most people think of black holes as humongous-but-tiny with immense gargantuan masses. They do not have to be. We have evidence for black holes being 2 or 3 times the mass of our sun. Some have even posited black holes are here on earth, the size of pinheads, that are quickly destroyed in part due to their own gluttony, and in part because of their interaction with anti-matter. it is relatively unknown by many arm chair physicists that lightning storms create abundant antimatter, and have been posited to produce black holes as well. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Lightning can contain enormous energies dispersed in a very short time. So it is not completely implausible that a string of tiny black holes goes through the sun, each one collecting solar mass, but individually not massive enough to affect the sun's position. Anything with any probability, no matter how infinitesimal, is plausible in an infinite universe. I only need it to happen once. Your suggestion of Europa, and the reasons for it, are pretty close to my thoughts. Any life so deeply embedded in the planet would not depend on the sun for survival. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ I just need the planets to not be destroyed completely, by radiation or by particles that penetrate through them.The integrity of the planet must be maintained. I have no interest in preserving human life in a human environment. The key criteria is 'will not CATASTROPHICALLY destroy...' $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ It has been posited by very knowledgeable and bright minds that black holes could be spontaneously created in or near stars, that are so small as to be inconsequential on a star scale. The physics behind it is plausible, but not yet observed. 'Micro black holes, also called quantum mechanical black holes or mini black holes, are hypothetical tiny black holes, for which quantum mechanical effects play an important role.[1] The concept that black holes may exist that are smaller than stellar mass was introduced in 1971 by Stephen Hawking.[2]' from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_black_hole $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme No. A black hole that is large enough to live for a second is so bright (Hawking radiation!) that it explodes with the force of many atomic bombs. And a black hole of that size is so tiny that it won't interact with any amount of other matter before it's fully evaporated. If you create smaller black holes, like in the Hadron Collider, all you achieve is a special kind of particle collision: You have some particles crash together to form a black hole, and then scatter immediately in the form of Hawking radiation. The energy that goes in is the energy that goes out. $\endgroup$ – cmaster Sep 29 '18 at 7:43
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The star is infected with a parasitic organism which converts helium into handwavium. These solar parasites lie dormant for several billion years, slowly accumulating energy in a small pocket universe, until a threshold is reached.

Once that threshold is achieved, the organism begins to convert hydrogen into erewhonium, a form of energy which can travel faster than light. It then manipulates its pocket universe in such a way that it intersects with a similar pocket universe in another star.

For unknown reasons (aesthetics? convenience?) the creatures always extend their pocket universe channels outward in the direction of the star's poles. Since the beam is highly directional, there's no direct effect on the planets, and while most of the energy is traveling through an alternate universe, there would be some spillover, causing columns unusual radiation and visible light to appear at the poles of the star, slowly extending outward. The initial appearance of these columns is the first warning sign that the star will be shrinking.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea. It is not beyond the realm of possibility to envision some life form that is based on helium, and it would also be able to survive on the gas giants. And it fits with quantum tunneling. Photosynthesis has been recently found to be understandable ONLY by positing quantum tunneling. Apparently, life sciences has never had an aversion to using quantum principles. And we have found bacteria that can live and thrive in almost any extreme environment, including in the core of nuclear reactors. There is no absolute reason why such a life form could not evolve in stars. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ It would be nothing like life as we know it, but so what? Neither is the life form in my story, so it fits. It actually solves a few plot problems. With quantum tunneling, there is no need for velocity at all (although the instantaneous information transfer WOULD be faster than the speed of light, but I have ever really been constrained by this. It is an artificial, extremely constrained and purely hypothetical limitation on the universe, imposed only by the result of the musings of the human mind to simplify the complexity of the universe). $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 19:00
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Have you considered a very dilute plume of antimatter falling into the star over a long period of time? It'd increase the energy output of the star, possibly making it even harder to detect by anyone watching. The increased output would also increase the solar wind, possibly destabilizing the orbits even sooner (although that may cause them to slow and fall in). Credit to barbecue's parasite answer for inspiration!

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not averse to anti-matter solutions. There are a lot more ways to produce it than most people realize. It was a serious contender when I thought the loss of mass would be around 10%. But the discovery that it is in the 50% range is in some ways disconcerting. It would seem to me that the stream would have to be more like a river, as it would take a one-to-one ratio and thus involve 50% of the Sun's mass worth of anti-matter. That is a lot of energy release. I am thinking that in order to be feasible, it would have to have a time frame more towards a million years than a thousand years. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 29 '18 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ It would probably be less than 50% of the mass though. Matter-antimatter annihilations are very energetic, I'm sure it'd blow off some of the nearby stellar mass (especially if it was a large amount of antimatter). You're right though, it'd still probably take too much to be viable. $\endgroup$ – phelbore Sep 29 '18 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't say it wasn't viable. It could be for some who are looking for slightly different criteria than I listed for my story line, and it could spark some interesting story lines. Something some posters around here seem to be averse to. There is a cadre that routinely just dismiss creative solutions as 'not possible' unless it is their idea. However, I appreciate imagination and creativity, and I support it. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 29 '18 at 0:31
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The sun could (howsoever) spin faster and faster (Beyblade, beyblade let it rip), and due to centrifugal forces the sun looses mass,
It could come to massive eruptions, which were luckily not in direction of earth, or the sun simply looses mass which is going to space dust and fog and stops shining. While sun loses mass also gravitation is lowered to the point where planets moving away from the sun. Hope this helps :)

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  • $\begingroup$ The concept of a star spinning fast enough to lose mass is not unknown in astronomy and cosmology. The trick is to not have the ejected mass cross the paths of the planets. See sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116091100.htm for instance $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ The sun has enough space to expand and loose gravity $\endgroup$ – Jannis Sep 27 '18 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the sun has enough room to expand. Certainly the lower planets might be affected, and I could live with that, but unfortunately the mass of the solar disk is also included in calculating the gravity of the sun, and even though the Sun loses half of its mass, I am not sure that the gravitational effects on the planetary system would be reduced by half. The trick is to get the mass far enough away from the Solar System such that it no longer gravitationally binds the planets to the Solar System, without the planets being directly harmed. However, I could hand wave it away. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 15:46
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I've got one that might be a bit out there. Imagine someone was tweaking the global constants of the universe - and some strange side effect was that helium atoms began decaying/unraveling/disappearing. It doesn't have to be rapid - 100 years gives a lot of time for the decay to occur over.

Our sun is currently 25% helium, but it doesn't take a lot to imagine a star a bit further along in its lifecycle and being ~50% hydrogen, ~50% helium. If a star like that started slowly losing atoms of Helium from the core (the helium would be in the center, not around the outside), it would slowly start shrinking, slowly start dimming, and slowly start losing some of its gravitational pull.

The nice thing is: Helium is pretty darned rare outside the sun (the reason it's called Helium is because we hadn't even found any of it on earth before we found it in the sun!) It's not like the stuff dissolving over 100 years on our planet would be any sort of catastrophic event.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not averse to accepting that physical constants might be changed. There is good credible evidence that the speed of light is different in different parts of the universe, and that the gravitational constant varies depending on the density. The conundrum of doing so is the Law of Unintended Consequences. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ My story depends on the helium in Jupiter, in part, to be an energy source, so the event would have to be hand waved as being very local. However, I am open to quantum effects, such as quantum tunneling, that removes the helium. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ See sciencemag.org/news/2015/12/…, and space.com/8084-jupiter-helium-rain-study-suggests.html for instance, of the characteristics of Saturn and Jupiter. However, this answer might be useful in other applications. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Before people jump on my allegation, here are references livescience.com/29111-speed-of-light-not-constant.html and citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/… $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 27 '18 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ I dunno. To be honest, the 'helium on Jupiter' angle might actually make things more compelling. Scientists notice their energy source is just... disappearing - coincidentally, about the time their star starts dimming and shrinking. They figure out a way to shield their local supplies from the effect, but are powerless to stop the Helium in the sun from disappearing. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Sep 27 '18 at 18:04
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With a description like "the exact details and claims are ambiguous, lack mathematical formalism, and often vary from one delusional crank to the next.", the Electric Universe model might come in handy for this question.

The Sun isn't a huge nuclear fusion reaction, it's a small one, the energy output and (by the powers of Handwavium) the gravitational pull are mostly an electric current flow from the center of the galaxy with the Sun as a light-bulb style node in an enormous circuit. As the galaxy rotates and the stars within it change relative positions, and the effects of frequencies combining or cancelling out, the amount of power flowing into The Solar System on a timescale of oh, say, a millennium or two can vary a lot.

Effects of such a drop include: A, B, C, D, E, F, H, and possibly G depending on how strict you are about "the ejected mass [..] must be dispersed into the galactic void." since there is no ejected mass, only a surprisingly small core of Sun remaining, with reduced visible size, reduced power output, reduced gravitational pull - maybe .. 50%?, and presumed reduced mass if that's even relevant anymore.

Searching YouTube for "the electric universe" will show many 'documentaries' and talks to give you more related ideas, such as Thunderbolt of the Gods

Bonus idea: classic fusion stars can exist alongside the electric conversion stars, so your other solar systems can be entirely normal, the Solar System happens not to be one of them.

as-yet-unknown but plausible scientific concept.

Uhh, I have no comment at this time, thank you.

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  • $\begingroup$ Really wild out-in-left-field' answers are appreciated. They spark imagination and creativity. That is what sci-fi writing is all about. Far better than stunted 'not possible' responses, which are useless. As you mentioned, the key word is 'plausible'. Your reference is stimulating. I am after a sort of 'Hitchhiker's Guide' concept of an intergalactic wanderer, but less a spoof on quantum indeterminacy principle and more seriousness. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 16:23
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There is the starlifting mentioned here, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_lifting The explanation I have found is a bit vague, but it's basically called "huff-n-puff" alluding to the cyclical on and off. You make particle accelerators interact with the sun's magnetic field and cause mass ejection at the poles. This is eminding me of the ejecta from a black hole or a gamma ray burst. This ejecta makes the star lose mass rapidly.

Edit: although will work, it will be much harder to adjust orbital speeds of the planets.

Edit: a de-orbiting of satellites is possible via tethers which interact with Earth's magnetic field, create an electric current from orbital velocity and hence reduce satellite's speed until it falls back into the atmosphere and leaves no space junk. In a similar ways, an advanced civilization may employ space elevators with tethers. They will interact with the sun's magnetic field and gradually slow down their planet, to make-up for the decrease of mass of their star, and prevent their planet from slingshotting into deep space. https://m.phys.org/news/2014-05-tether-solution-satellite-de-orbiting-reentry.html

On the other hand, we should not interfere with the planet's rotation. Few tethers will get an artificially-generated current when at the right angle and maintain rotation that was previously lost.

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  • $\begingroup$ Violates the criteria "Should not involve intervention of some 'superior alien intelligence', but must be derived from some plausible natural event." $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Sep 28 '18 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ I looked at starlifting when it was mentioned in an answer or comment to my preceding question. The references had some good calculations on what would happen to a star when a lot of mass is removed, giving me confidence that a loss of 50% is non-catastrophic if done over time. The star would self-adjust to the new mass quite nicely. My research indicates that there are at least three methods to starlift, all plausible with sufficient technology. Unfortunately for my scenario, it requires a highly intelligent intervention. For others looking for an answer for their scenario it might work. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @justin thyme: Good point to consider. On the other hand, the star gets dimmer and the effect must be counteracted by drawing the planet nearer to its star. $\endgroup$ – Christmas Snow Sep 28 '18 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ I see no reason for down-voting this answer. It lead me to some very useful data and calculations. Some might find it very useful. One method of starlifting could plausibly be the result of non-intelligent intervention with a bit of handwaving and the positing of a plausible natural method to obtain the method. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Sep 28 '18 at 20:17
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It sounds like you're trying to get the planets to escape velocity of their star without destroying life on them. Tampering with the star at all, as others have mentioned, is improbable and extremely dangerous to life on those planets.

Perhaps a simpler, yet different approach to your goal here would work. What if instead, a rogue planet or other high mass body (such as a black hole or brown dwarf or something) made a close flyby of the planets in question, giving them a gravitational assist that flings them past escape velocity of the parent star?

This should be relatively safe, compared to modifying the star itself.

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  • $\begingroup$ 'It's turtles all the way down'. Then I have to explain the rogue planet or the black hole or brown dwarf just wandering through the galaxy. I was kind of hoping to be at the beginning, not the middle or end, of wandering objects. I am just worried about life on ONE planet - life that is not dependent on the star in any way, fashion, or form. That part I have worked out. Life that is dependent on the star Meh, sucks to be dependent on a star. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Oct 2 '18 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ I am not getting the planet to escape velocity, I am making its current velocity the escape velocity. I do not want any outside influence on the planet at all, except for the reduction of the mass of the star, and the attendant consequences. Your answer is good, but to a different question. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Oct 2 '18 at 1:41
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I'm not sure if this constitutes a complete answer, but I had a thought that mainly focuses on [E,F,G], while probably satisfying all of your other conditions.

When physics students start to learn about gravitational potential, one of the first problems they are asked to solve is the gravitational force inside and outside of a hollow spherical shell of uniform mass density. The results are maybe a bit surprising:

Inside - The net force from all parts of the shell is zero, essentially the same as if the shell didn't exist. This usually leads people to the "are we in a giant cosmic shell" question.

see: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Mechanics/sphshell2.html

Outside - The net force from all parts of the shell is the exact same as if the mass of the shell were concentrated in a point at its center. This result is the same for a spherical body with radially symmetric mass density. We approximate all celestial bodies as such, unless we are doing things like precision orbit determination for near-Earth spacecraft in which case we need to be more precise.

see: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Mechanics/sphshell.html#wtls

Ok, you may see where I'm going with this now. Say for some reason the sun ejected half of its mass in a roughly radially symmetric manner - that is spreading out in all directions roughly equally. And for now let's assume the ejected solar matter wont harm anything it passes across (I know I know, I'll come back to it). As the 'shell' of solar matter expanded, anything outside its radius would continue to move as if the sun were still a coherent body (see 'outside' result). As the radius of the 'shell' passed you, you would pretty much immediately begin to only experience gravitational force from the half mass of the sun that stayed centrally located in the solar system (see 'inside' result). So, with the (ridiculous) assumptions made so far, this is a gravitationally sound scenario in which your orbital velocity would immediately become escape velocity.

Now let's look at the issues with this answer:

1) How does this happen? I'm not a nuclear physicist or even slightly versed in heliophysics so I will try not to pull anything out of my butt here. However if you're ok with a vagueish handwave you could go with some abrupt change in the sun's internal cycle causing an ejection of this magnitude. Even better, I'd bet there's an answer here that would lend a ceedible explanation to this scenario.

2) Won't the ejected solar matter destroy everything it encounters? Yes, yes it will. The best way to address this would be to have the expanding shell begin to self-gravitate (start to form small clumps) as it expands. At the large scale the gravitational solutions are probably still valid (or valid enough) and this gives a plausible way for Saturn to avoid incineration by just being lucky enough to miss the now clumpy expanding 'shell' of solar mass.

3) If Saturn passes back outside of the shell on its way out of the solar system won't it again be captured by the combined mass of the sun and its ejecta? Yes. I think for this to work, the 'shell' would have to be ejected at a velocity higher than Saturn's eventual escape velocity. In this way, it will always be inside the 'shell.'
*This actually provides an interesting side opportunity in your narrative. As the 'shell' begins to self-gravitate and form clumps of ejecta all moving out into the void, maybe Saturn could fall into an orbit with one of these chunks. I doubt natural fusion would still be happening, but it would certainly be a lot of good fuel for man-made fusion (that has to be how your colony survives, right?).

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