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Misaligned protoplanetary disks in a young binary star system



Many extrasolar planets follow orbits that differ from the nearly coplanar and circular orbits found in our Solar System; their orbits may be eccentric1 or inclined with respect to the host star’s equator2,3, and the population of giant planets orbiting close to their host stars suggests appreciable orbital migration4. There is at present no consensus on what produces such orbits. Theoretical explanations often invoke interactions with a binary companion star in an orbit that is inclined relative to the planet’s orbital plane4,5. Such mechanisms require significant mutual inclinations between the planetary and binary star orbital planes. The protoplanetary disks in a few young binaries are misaligned6,7,8,9,10,11,12, but often the measurements of these misalignments are sensitive only to a small portion of the inner disk, and the three-dimensional misalignment of the bulk of the planet-forming disk mass has hitherto not been determined. Here we report that the protoplanetary disks in the young binary system HK Tauri are misaligned by 60 to 68 degrees, such that one or both of the disks are significantly inclined to the binary orbital plane. Our results demonstrate that the necessary conditions exist for misalignment-driven mechanisms to modify planetary orbits, and that these conditions are present at the time of planet formation, apparently because of the binary formation process.

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Figure 1: Observations of the CO(3–2) line in the HK Tau binary system.
Figure 2: Data, best-fit model and data–model difference for the disks around HK Tau A and B.
Figure 3: Posterior probability distribution for the angle Δ between the two disks’ angular momentum vectors.


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We thank S. Schnee for help in reducing the ALMA data, S. Myers and R. Indebetouw for assistance with ALMA data analysis, L. Prato for sharing data in advance of publication, and M. Hughes, D. Cohen, S. Gaudi, L. Steuerle Schofield and K. Stassun for discussions. This paper makes use of the following ALMA data: ADS/JAO.ALMA#2011.0.00150.S. ALMA is a partnership of the ESO (representing its member states), the NSF (USA) and the NINS (Japan), together with the NRC (Canada) and the NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by the ESO, the AUI/NRAO and the NAOJ. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

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Authors and Affiliations



E.L.N.J. developed the disk modelling code, ran the models and wrote most of the paper. R.A. initiated the project, reduced the data, wrote the text on the observations and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Eric L. N. Jensen.

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Jensen, E., Akeson, R. Misaligned protoplanetary disks in a young binary star system. Nature 511, 567–569 (2014).

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