Two planets have been spotted with criss-crossing orbits, the first time we’ve seen anything like it, according to National Geographic.
Most planets orbit a star in roughly the same plane, such as the eight planets in our solar system. This new discovery, however, shows that two Jupiter-like planets orbiting the start Upsilon Andromedae have 30 degree tilted orbits that cross each others paths.
Previously astronomers assumed that all planets in a star system followed in line, as they have done in all such star systems located to date. Something caused these two planets to knock out of alignment after the Upsilon Andromedae star system had been born. Scientists are not sure exactly what this “something” was, but have presented a few theories.
Potentially the red dwarf star that also orbits Upsilon Andromedae came in closer at some stage during its orbit and caused an additional gravitational pull on either of the two planets that resulted in their orbital line being distorted.
Another possibility that was presented was the idea of a third planet that battled with the other two’s gravitational pulls, eventually being thrown out of the star system and leaving its siblings a little lop-sided.
It is not immediately clear, but potentially if either of these planets were to slow down they could end up orbiting much closer to each other. That could mean a collision or yet another gravitational distortion that could upset their orbits further.
There is a third planet that has a much closer orbit of Upsilon Andromedae and does not cross the paths of the two criss-crossing planets, but astronomers have yet to identify the orbit of that one.