Planets Outside the Solar System Spin Strangely

May 24, 2011

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. orbit (v.) – to move or travel around a curved path
Example: Planets far from the Sun orbit around it for years.

2. gaseous (adj.) – having the properties of gas or being in the form of gas
Example: Students inside the laboratory must protect themselves from inhaling gaseous substances.
3. phenomenon (n.) – an event or happening that can be observed and proved scientifically
Example: Scientists tried to explain the strange phenomenon through an experiment.

4. wobble (v.) – to sway unsteadily from side to side.
Example: The weak foundation of the building caused its wobble.

Read the text below.

A scientific article from the Nature journal recently reported that some planets outside the solar system spin strangely in a direction different from that of the stars they orbit.

This backward spinning, referred to by scientists as ‘flipped orbits’, happens to gaseous planets like Jupiter which are positioned far away from the sun. However, Frederic Rasio from Northwestern University found out a much stranger fact: these backward spinning gaseous planets are actually positioned near their stars.

This finding challenges the common theory  of astronomers that most gaseous planets form far from their stars like in the case of our solar system where planets like Jupiter are located million miles away from the Sun.

Rasio explained that this strange planet behavior may have been caused by a phenomenon called ‘gravitational perturbation’. This happens when planets nearer a star pull gaseous planets closer to the star, causing gaseous planets to spin backwards.

Astronomers have been observing planets outside our solar system since 1995, but they have seen only around 500. The presence of these planets cannot be observed directly but only through the wobbling of the stars which happens as planets revolve around them. 

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Do you believe in every fact that is supported by science? Why or why not?
·         Why do you think some scientific facts are eventually proven wrong?

Discussion B

·         What do you think is the importance of studying other planets in the universe?
·         How does our knowledge of other planets help us protect our own planet?

May 24, 2011