A backward-spinning star with two coplanar planets

Maria Hjorth, Simon Albrecht, Teruyuki Hirano, Joshua N. Winn, Rebekah I. Dawson, J. J. Zanazzi, Emil Knudstrup, Bun'ei Sato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


It is widely assumed that a star and its protoplanetary disk are initially aligned, with the stellar equator parallel to the disk plane. When observations reveal a misalignment between stellar rotation and the orbital motion of a planet, the usual interpretation is that the initial alignment was upset by gravitational perturbations that took place after planet formation. Most of the previously known misalignments involve isolated hot Jupiters, for which planet–planet scattering or secular effects from a wider-orbiting planet are the leading explanations. In theory, star/disk misalignments can result from turbulence during star formation or the gravitational torque of a wide-orbiting companion star, but no definite examples of this scenario are known. An ideal example would combine a coplanar system of multiple planets—ruling out planet–planet scattering or other disruptive postformation events—with a backward-rotating star, a condition that is easier to obtain from a primordial misalignment than from postformation perturbations. There are two previously known examples of a misaligned star in a coplanar multiplanet system, but in neither case has a suitable companion star been identified, nor is the stellar rotation known to be retrograde. Here, we show that the star K2-290 A is tilted by 124 ± 6 compared with the orbits of both of its known planets and has a wide-orbiting stellar companion that is capable of having tilted the protoplanetary disk. The system provides the clearest demonstration that stars and protoplanetary disks can become grossly misaligned due to the gravitational torque from a neighboring star.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2017418118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 23 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Binary host
  • Exoplanets
  • Obliquity
  • Primordial inclination
  • System formation


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