Since their discovery in the 1990s our knowledge of extra-solar planets has increased at a staggering rate, and we now know that most, perhaps all, stars host planetary systems. These planets form in cold discs of dust and gas around young stars, and in recent years our observations of these protoplanetary discs have also advanced dramatically. We typically treat planet-forming discs as flat, smooth structures but recent observations have revealed a wealth of sub-structures in these discs, including spiral arms, gaps, misalignments and warps. While we can explain the origin of some of these features, many are still open questions. One of the best-studied protoplanetary discs is around the nearby star TW Hya, and this almost face-on disc shows evidence of gaps (possibly due to planets) as well as a localised dark region in the outer disc. Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope found that this dark region is moving around the outer disc, but it is seen to move much more quickly than gas orbits at that radius. This strongly suggests that the dark region is actually a shadow cast by something in the inner disc (where the gas orbits faster). This was interpreted as evidence of a disc warp, such that the inner part of the disc is inclined with respect to the outer disc. The relative misalignment between the inner and outer disc then results in a shadow being cast on the outer disc. Such a configuration could be caused if a misaligned planet is present in this system, where the planets orbit is tilted away from the mid-plane of the disc. The motion of the inner, tilted disc and hence the shadow would thus be governed by the gravity of this misaligned planet, and it might be possible to infer properties of the planet from the observed shadow.
Simulating such a configuration is technically challenging, because we need to resolve the out-of-plane interactions between the disc and the planet, as well as including the influence of the outer disc. In practice this requires high resolution 3-D hydrodynamic simulations covering a large dynamic range. Using DiRAC, we were able to run a suite of simulations to study the interaction between misaligned planets and their parent discs in detail, investigating the importance of different planet masses and inclinations on the subsequent disc structure. For planets that were massive enough to carve the disc into an inner disc and an outer disc (as seen in Fig.1), we confirmed it was possible to drive the configuration predicted from the observations of TW Hya. Importantly, the large spatial scales we were able to simulate allowed us to show that this was possible even for small planet inclinations. We subsequently ran detailed radiative transfer simulations to calculate how our simulated discs would appear to our telescopes, and confirmed that such a configuration is broadly consistent with what is observed in TW Hya. New observations are finding that misalignments of this type are common in planet-forming discs, and in the coming years DiRAC will allow us to understand the dynamics and evolution of these nascent planetary systems in detail.