Contact: Sarah Eve Roberts
Slanted solar systems surprise scientists
Space Scoop: Astronomy News for Kids
This picture was created by an artist to show us what the double star system HK Tauri would look like up close. You can see that both stars are surrounded by a gas disc, which will eventually turn into a planet or even a Solar System like ours! But unlike our own Solar System these planets will follow a wonky orbit because the two discs lie at almost a 90 degree angle to each other.
Credit: R. Hurt (NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC)
It's well known that the planets, moons, asteroids and other objects in our Solar System orbit the Sun in a more-or-less perfectly flat, disc-like motion, like a spinning CD. But is this true for other Solar Systems in the Universe?
By 25 July 2014, 1811 planets had been found orbiting distant stars, and the majority of these planets do orbit their stars in roughly disc-shaped orbits. But there are exceptions.
Some planets have been found orbiting their parent stars along strange, tilted paths. And we are now be a step closer to understanding these weird and wonky systems.
Unlike our solitary Sun, most stars form in binary pairs — two stars that are in orbit around each other. Using the ALMA telescope, astronomers have recently been observing two wildly crooked planet-forming gas discs round the young stars in a binary system called HK Tauri.
The two planet-forming discs (one around each star) are tilted almost at a right-angle to each other. This picture shows an artist's portrayal of what the system looks like. So, why are these planet-forming discs so skewed?
Because the two stars and their discs are not perfectly lined-up, the gravitational pull of one star pulls on the other disc, making it wobble. Any planets forming in one of these discs will also be disturbed by the other star's gravity, causes its orbit to become tilted.
Cool Fact: It looks like each star in the HK Tauri system will eventually have it's own planet (or maybe multiple planets!) But there are some planets that orbit around two stars. These are called 'circumbinary planets' and there have been 17 discovered so far.
This Space Scoop is based on a Press Release from ESO.