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Planets Gone Rogue

April 15, 2010

Some of the newly discovered exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system) are challenging our theories and knowledge regarding formation of planets. Generally accepted theory regarding formation of planets is that a cloud of gas collapses under it’s own gravitational pull to form a very dense core which rotates at a very high speed. The more it collapses faster it rotates while the shape of cloud mass flattens into a disc due to collision process. The core of this flattened disc rotates much faster than the periphery of the disc. Finally, dense core results in formation of star while the planets and their moons are formed in the rotating disc. Since the stars and planets are formed from the same mass of clouds , all the planets orbit in same direction and in the same plane as the star, that’s how our solar system works. To challenge this theory and to prove that how less we know about nature, in general, scientists at ESO have found new planets whose orbits are tilted and misaligned to their host star and some of them even orbit in opposite direction to that of their star (retrograde). The above picture is an artistic illustration of such a planet, a planet gone rogue considering our current understanding!! There have been several other studies reporting such planets. These retrograde planets are supposed to have gone through planet-planet scattering as a result of various gravitational interactions leading to changes in their orbiting behavior. Such star-planet system would not have many planets, as this backward rotating planet will move closer to the host star and will knockout any other smaller planet in the way and ultimately such a system will consist of the star, the rogue planet, and few other planets far away from the star.
Sources: European Southern Observatory
Picture credit: ESO ; used under Creative Commons License

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