If you look at drawings of our Solar System, you’ll notice all the planets are lined up nicely in a flat plane, and their orbits are roughly circular. If you can imagine the disk of material that the planets formed out of, it would have been a circle surrounding our Sun. And this circular shape is what astronomers have been seeing when they discover planetary debris disks around other stars.
Using the Hubble Space Telescope, and the W.M. Keck Observatory, astronomers have turned up a young system where the star and its planetary disk of debris aren’t lined up. From our perspective here on Earth, the disk is seen edge-on, jutting out to one side of the star in an elliptical orbit.
What could have caused this situation? Astronomers think that the disk’s odd lopsided look is caused by dust following a highly elliptical orbit around the star. Perhaps its the gravitational interaction with planets sweeping up material, or maybe the system had an encounter with a nearby star that yanked the debris disk out on one side.
This discovery could help explain possible planetary upheavals in our own Solar System. For example, astronomers think that Neptune formed in between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, and then something kicked it out to its current position.