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Artist's illustration of the planets orbiting TOI-178. Image: ESO/L. Calçada/spaceengine.org

Five planets orbiting a star 200 light-years from Earth are locked in a strange dance that could help scientists learn more about how far-off worlds form.

The big picture: In recent years, researchers have found that nearly every star has at least one planet orbiting it. Now, astronomers are starting to learn more about those worlds, helping them piece together why the universe looks the way it does.

Details: The five outer planets of the star TOI-178 orbit in resonance with one another, meaning patterns emerge in their orbits, with some of the planets occasionally aligning. The closest planet to the star isn't in resonance with the others.

  • Perhaps the best way to visualize this complicated planetary rhythm is via this video from the European Southern Observatory. (Be sure to have your sound on.)
  • "The orbits in this system are very well ordered, which tells us that this system has evolved quite gently since its birth," Yann Alibert, an author of a new study on the star system said in a statement.
  • If the system had been disrupted by large impacts early in its history, the natural alignments of these planets would have been thrown off.

Yes, but: Instead of an arrangement of planets like our own — with the rocky, dense planets closer to the Sun and the gaseous ones farther out — the planets orbiting TOI-178 seem to be in a more haphazard arrangement.

  • "It appears there is a planet as dense as the Earth right next to a very fluffy planet with half the density of Neptune, followed by a planet with the density of Neptune," Nathan Hara, one of the study's authors, said in the statement.
  • That strange assortment of densities could force astronomers to re-examine current theory that holds more dense planets tend to form closer to their stars.

Go deeper

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say. 

The U.S. coronavirus vaccines aren't all the same

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The U.S. now has three COVID-19 vaccines, and public health officials are quick — and careful — to say there’s no bad option. But their effectiveness, manufacturing and distribution vary.

Why it matters: Any of the authorized vaccines are much better than no vaccine, especially for people at high risk of severe coronavirus infections. But their differences may fuel perceptions of inequity, and raise legitimate questions about the best way to use each one.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The future of workplace benefits

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The pandemic exposed how workplaces across America are inhospitable to parents. But it could also spur companies to make changes.

The big picture: Well over a million parents have left their jobs due to child care responsibilities during the pandemic. Now, companies — large and small — are attempting to reimagine workplace benefits and add flexibility to help those parents come back.