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Atom & Cosmos

Planets born with off-kilter orbits, the planet formerly known as a star and more in this week's news

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9:42am, August 30, 2011

Planets walk crooked after cloud crashes
Cloud fender benders in crowded stellar nurseries may explain why some planets are born with off-kilter orbits. While the solar system is pretty orderly — all the planets circle the sun in the same direction and the same plane — planets circling distant stars can follow highly elliptical, tilted orbits or even dance backwards compared to their suns’ rotations. German and British astronomers suggest in an upcoming Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that this diversity might come about in the systems’ infancies, when their stars are still huddled in clusters. Encounters between gas clouds and the disks that later form these systems could cause all these peculiarities and even speed up planet formation. —Camille M. Carlisle

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