The planets of Earth's Solar System formed from a flat disc of gas and dust revolving around the Sun's equator, so they all started out in nearly the same plane. Earth’s orbit makes an angle of just 7.2 degrees with the plane of the Sun’s equator.
Five years ago, however, astronomers were shocked to find planets orbiting at steep angles to their stars’ equators. Some planets even went around their suns backwards — they orbit in the opposite direction to the star’s rotation. But no one had seen a misaligned multiplanetary solar system until now.
For the latest study, astronomer Daniel Huber of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and his colleagues looked at Kepler-56, a star roughly 860 parsecs (2,800 light years) from Earth. It has two large planets that lie in the same plane and circle closer to their sun than Mercury does to ours. Kepler detected the planets as they blocked the star's light, so their orbits are oriented edge-on to our line of sight.