BEIJING, Oct.21 (Xinhuanet) -- Astronomers using data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope have discovered some curious planets circling their fiery star in tilted orbits, at about a 45 degree angle from the star’s equator. By comparison, all the planets in our solar system orbit with only a slight, seven-degree angle relative to our sun.
Although whacky orbits have been seen before, they generally are found in planetary systems containing a Jupiter-like gas giant in close orbit to its host star. But the star dubbed Kepler-56 has no hot Jupiter. “It was a big surprise,” lead author of the study of NASA’s Ames Research Center told Nature.
Kepler-56 is about 3,000 light years from Earth and has a mass 30 percent greater than the Sun.
To help figure out why Kepler-56’s planets behaved so strangely, scientists used observations from the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii to discover that what keeps the two planets stabilized in their skewed orbits is a third massive companion planet in a distant orbit.
“This is a new level of detail about the architecture of a planetary system outside our solar system,” co-author and Iowa State University physics and astronomy professor Kawaler said. “These studies allow us to draw a detailed picture of a distant system that provides a new and critical test of our understanding of how these very alien solar systems are structured.”