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A primordial origin for misalignments between stellar spin axes and planetary orbits


The existence of gaseous giant planets whose orbits lie close to their host stars (‘hot Jupiters’) can largely be accounted for by planetary migration associated with viscous evolution of proto-planetary nebulae1. Recently, observations of the Rossiter–McLaughlin effect2 during planetary transits have revealed that a considerable fraction of hot Jupiters are on orbits that are misaligned with respect to the spin axes of their host stars3. This observation has cast doubt on the importance of disk-driven migration as a mechanism for producing hot Jupiters. Here I show that misaligned orbits can be a natural consequence of disk migration in binary systems whose orbital plane is uncorrelated with the spin axes of the individual stars4,5,6. The gravitational torques arising from the dynamical evolution of idealized proto-planetary disks under perturbations from massive distant bodies act to misalign the orbital planes of the disks relative to the spin poles of their host stars. As a result, I suggest that in the absence of strong coupling between the angular momentum of the disk and that of the host star, or of sufficient dissipation that acts to realign the stellar spin axis and the planetary orbits, the fraction of planetary systems (including systems of ‘hot Neptunes’ and ‘super-Earths’) whose angular momentum vectors are misaligned with respect to their host stars will be commensurate with the rate of primordial stellar multiplicity.

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Figure 1: Geometrical set-up of the problem.
Figure 2: Excitation of disk–star misalignment.
Figure 3: Timescales for excitation of spin-orbit misalignment.

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I thank A. Morbidelli, P. Golreich, H. Knutson, S. Tremaine, J. Winn and F. Adams for numerous conversations and D. Stevenson and G. Laughlin for carefully reading the manuscript. I am greatly indebted to M. Kazandjian and J. Touma for providing me with the softened analytical Gaussian averaging algorithm used in this work and help with implementation. Finally, I am grateful to D. Fabrycky for careful examination of the paper and numerous suggestions, which resulted in a substantial improvement of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Konstantin Batygin.

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Batygin, K. A primordial origin for misalignments between stellar spin axes and planetary orbits. Nature 491, 418–420 (2012).

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