Are the planes of solar systems aligned with the plane of the Galaxy?
Are the orientations of our solar system and others in our galactic disc "in-line" with the disc or are they oriented in all different directions? What determines their orientation?
They're oriented in all different directions. The size of a solar system is so much smaller than the size of the Galaxy, that the Galaxy's structure has no impact on the orientation of a solar system. What determines their orientations is the direction of the angular momentum that the system had when it formed, and that's pretty much random.
Our own solar system is tipped by about 63 degrees with respect to the plane of the galaxy. You can see that on this infrared picture taken by the IRAS satellite. The picture is a little tricky to interpret because, like many maps of the Earth, it's an Aitoff projection, which means that the entire sky has been flattened onto an ellipse. But you should be able to see that the angle between the bright horizontal band (the Milky Way's disk) and the blue haze (dust in the plane of the solar system) crosses at an angle of something like 60 degrees.
Get More 'Curious?' with Our New PODCAST:
- Podcast? Subscribe? Tell me about the Ask an Astronomer Podcast
- Subscribe to our Podcast | Listen to our current Episode
- Cool! But I can't now. Send me a quick reminder now for later.
- How do stars move in the Galaxy?
- Why do all the planets orbit in the same plane?
- What direction do planets rotate?
How to ask a question:
If you have a follow-up question concerning the above subject, submit it here. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on our site menu, or go here for help.
This page has been accessed 40663 times since July 20, 2004.
Last modified: July 20, 2004 1:02:36 PM
Ask an Astronomer is hosted by the Astronomy Department at Cornell University and is produced with PHP and MySQL.
Warning: Your browser is misbehaving! This page might look ugly. (Details)