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Scientist debate on-again off-again planet

Los Angeles -- A celestial body once touted and then rejected as the first planet photographed outside the solar system may yet turn out to be a planet, U.S. scientists say.

An image captured in 1998 by the Hubble space telescope shows a faint object 450 million light years from Earth near a pair of newborn stars, ScienceNews.org reported Thursday.

At the time, the discovery team led by astronomer Susan Terebey suggested the object's location at the end of a long, luminous filament emanating from the two stars indicated the object, TMR-1C, was a planet cast off by those incipient suns. Many researchers were skeptical, saying the apparent association of the objects might be just a coincidental alignment, and even Terebey later concluded the object was too hot to be a planet.

Two recent studies suggest scientists may have been too quick to write of TMR-1C.

Both say evidence strongly suggests the object is in fact closely linked to the two stars.

"We may have to credit Terebey et al with finding a planet after all, but it is perhaps too soon to jump to that conclusion, just as it was too soon to discard the object as a planet 10 years ago," Eduardo Martin of the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid, a coauthor of one of the new studies, said.

"This object should be reconsidered as a planet candidate," with a mass a few times that of Jupiter, as Terebey's team initially proposed, he says.

Mark Marley of NASA's Ames Research Center said he remained unconvinced.

"This is a very faint and difficult-to-observe object," Marley said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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