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Top Story

The case of the over-tilting exoplanets

For almost a decade, astronomers have tried to explain why so many pairs of planets outside our solar system have an odd configuration -- their orbits seem to have been pushed apart by a powerful unknown mechanism. Now, researchers say they've found a possible answer, and it implies that the planets' poles are majorly tilted. The finding could have a big impact on how researchers estimate the structure, climate, and habitability of exoplanets as they try to identify planets that are similar to Earth. NASA's Kepler mission revealed that about 30% of stars similar to our Sun harbor "Super-Earths." Their sizes are somewhere between that of Earth and Neptune, they have nearly circular and coplanar orbits, and it takes them fewer than 100 days to go around their star. Yet curiously, a great number of these planets exist in pairs with orbits that lie just outside natural points of stability.

Visit Website | Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Sarah Millholland/Yale University