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A Preponderance of Perpendicular Planets

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Observing the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect during a planetary transit allows the determination of the angle λ between the sky projections of the star's spin axis and the planet's orbital axis. Such observations have revealed a large population of well-aligned systems and a smaller population of misaligned systems, with values of λ ranging up to 180°. For a subset of 57 systems, we can now go beyond the sky projection and determine the 3D obliquity ψ by combining the Rossiter-McLaughlin data with constraints on the line-of-sight inclination of the spin axis. Here we show that the misaligned systems do not span the full range of obliquities; they show a preference for nearly perpendicular orbits (ψ = 80°-125°) that seems unlikely to be a statistical fluke. If confirmed by further observations, this pile-up of polar orbits is a clue about the unknown processes of obliquity excitation and evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL1
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

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