Astronomers Identify ‘Powerful Unknown Mechanism’ That Causes Planets to Tilt

There’s a mysterious strong mechanism that is pulling planets in the universe into strange orbits. And astronomers have not been able to understand what it is.

For decades have experts tried understanding and explaining why is it that so many pairs of planes located outside of our solar system come in such irregular and unusual configurations.

Observations have revealed many planets have unusual orbits that seem to have been pushed apart, but no one has ever been able to understand what force caused it.

Efraimstochter / Pixabay

But now, astronomers believe they have an answer, and experts point that there is something equally strange about the poles on the exoplanets, which seem to be tilted off center.

This new discovery could help astronomers understand exoplanets and their structure, climate, and habitability, as we continue hunting the cosmos for planets resembling Earth.

To understand these strange details, we look towards NASA’s Kepler mission which has been exploring the universe for exoplanets. The mission discovered that as much as thirty percent of known stars that resemble our own sun, then to have planets dubbed as Super-Earths.


Over-tilting exoplanets. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Sarah Millholland.
Over-tilting exoplanets. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Sarah Millholland.


Super-Earths are usually bigger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune.

Usually, they orbit their host star in a circular orbit taking them less than 100 days to do so.

Interestingly, astronomers have found that most of these planets circle their star in pairs, with orbits that are strange and unstable.

Now, after gathering enough data from observations, scientists believe that the odd features can be explained by a phenomenon known as “obliquity”, or how they are tilted between the axis and the orbit.

Astronomers from Yael University argue that the fact that some of these planets are tipped over seems to push them further apart.

“When planets such as these have large axial tilts, as opposed to little or no tilt, their tides are exceedingly more efficient at draining orbital energy into heat in the planets,” explained first author Millholland, a graduate student at Yale.

“This vigorous tidal dissipation pries the orbits apart.”

Curiously, something similar can be found within our own solar system if we take a look at the Earth and the moon. Our moon’s orbit seems to grow slowly, but the day on Earth seems the be lengthening, as the Earth and the moon move further away.

This odd tilting may decide a lot of features about planets.

“It impacts several of their physical features, such as their climate, weather, and global circulations,” co-author Gregory Laughlin said.

“The seasons on a planet with a large axial tilt are much more extreme than those on a well-aligned planet, and their weather patterns are probably non-trivial.”

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