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Possible planet found outside solar system

May 28, 1998
Web posted at: 4:14 p.m. EDT (2014 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- NASA unveiled Thursday the first image of what researchers believe may be a planet from outside our own solar system, a giant gassy body double or triple the mass of Jupiter.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured the image of the possible planet in the constellation Taurus, about 450 light-years from Earth. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

Reporters got their first look at the object known as TMR-1C at a press conference at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington.

NASA says the planet is located near a newly-forming binary star system, which consists of two stars very close together and orbiting each other.

NASA says the finding has to be further substantiated and confirmed, but if it all holds up this will be the most important discovery Hubble has made to date.

Scientists also say that without the invention of highly sophisticated satellites like Hubble, they'd never be able to probe star systems to learn more about the mysteries of space.

"The conclusion from those studies ... suggest that the formation of solar systems, or solar system-like objects, are a common outcome, or perhaps an inevitable outcome of the process that forms stars," NASA said.

Susan Terebey comments on the discovery
icon "...the candidate young planet"
417 K/19 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
icon "...a tunnel through space"
782 K/36 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
icon "...what happens in such a system"
286 K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The object's age is one thing that could exclude it as a planet, NASA said.

If it's only a few hundred thousand years old, about the same age as the star system it came from, that would indicate the object could be a planet, the scientists said. But if the object is much older than the star system, like 10 million years old, the object could be a brown dwarf, which is a star that failed to maintain nuclear fusion.

Researchers say the chances of the later scenario are slight.

Discoverer Susan Terebey, of the Extrasolar Research Corp. of Pasadena, California, called TMR-1C "a candidate young planet." She said Hubble's finding suggests that giant planets comprised of gasses may be formed by binary stars.

"The results don't directly tell us about the presence of any terrestrial planets like Earth," Terebey said. "However, we believe gas giants do influence the formation of much smaller rocky planets."

Scientists say TMR-1C appears to lie at the end of a filament of light, suggesting it was flung out into the Milky Way galaxy by a young pair of binary stars.

Since 1995, scientists have detected as many as eight possible planets outside our solar system. Until now, none of the possible planets have been seen. Astronomers based their conclusions on the behavior of surrounding stars. A planet's gravitational pull can make a star orbited by the planet wobble.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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