Presumed Protoplanet May Be a Star
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sometimes it looks like a planet, sometimes it doesn’t.
That’s the problem for an object scientists have poetically dubbed TMR-1C.
Once they thought it was a planet _ the first one outside our solar system to be directly seen. Now they don’t think so after all.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Friday that follow-up studies of TMR-1C indicate that it is too hot to be a planet.
Instead, the agency said, astronomers now believe it is a background star, seen through interstellar dust which dimmed the light and reddened it.
The object was first photographed in 1997 by the Hubble Space Telescope. The picture showed a bright dot at the end of a long streamer of reflective dust stretching 135 billion miles back to a double star located 450 light-years away from Earth. A light year is about 6 trillion miles.
That sighting was reported in 1998 as a possible young and hot ``protoplanet″ several times the mass of Jupiter.
While planets in other solar systems have been inferred from the motion of stars nearby, none had actually been observed directly.
However, astronomer Susan Terebey of the Extrasolar Research Corp., Pasadena, Calif., who initially reported the finding, now says the presumed planet is more likely a background star.
In a paper scheduled to be published in the May Astronomical Journal, Terebey reports, ``The new data do not lend weight to the protoplanet interpretation and the results remain consistent with the explanation that TMR-1C may be a background star.″
Terebey used the Keck telescope to measure the object’s temperature by dissecting its light and found a temperature of greater than 4,400 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hotter than the predicted temperatures of young giant planets.
On the net: http://www.nasa.gov.
Images of TMR-1C: http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/pr/1998/19/