Astronomers have discovered the first known example of a "tilted" solar system – that is, a star whose equator tilts steeply away from the plane in which its planets orbit. It's an unprecedented find, one that could help explain how some planets wind up in wonky orbits.
Earth, like most planets that we know of (so far), orbits more or less in the same plane as the equator of its parent star (7.2 degrees out-of-plane, to be exact.) But in research published in the latest issue of Science, a team of researchers led by NASA astronomer Daniel Huber has identified two planets that orbit at staggering 45 degrees relative to the equator of their parent star, red giant Kepler 56. Scientists have spotted similar tilts in other systems, but until now thought such an arrangement would require the presence of a massive, gas giant planet close to the parent star to do so. Kepler 56 has no such giant. What it does have is a third, outer planet, that researchers hypothesize pulls the planets into and steadies them along their slanted orbital course.