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Alien planet.

Talk about a Kodak moment! NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has snapped the first picture ever of a planet beyond our solar system--the first visible proof that planets exist elsewhere in the universe. Called TMR-1C, the planet lies in the constellation Taurus, about 450 light-years from Earth. (A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 9.5 trillion km.)

Scientists have found evidence of other planets before, but the blazing light of stars prevented them from photographing one. But TMR-1C sits 209 billion km (130 billion mi) away from its two parent stars (called a binary-star system).

The planet is also huge, possibly at least three times bigger than Jupiter, our solar system's largest planet. Such planets are called gas giants, which scientists think are the first planets to emerge from leftover colliding gases and dust after a star's birth.

What's surprising is how quickly TMR-1C may have formed. Scientists thought gas giants took 10 million years or longer to evolve. But astronomer Susan Terebey, who discovered the planet, thinks TMR-1C took only 300,000 years to form. If gas giants don't take as long to form as scientists once thought, then many more of them may exist in the universe.

Researchers scouring for life outside the solar system are thrilled by the discovery. "Where there are gas giants, we hope to find smaller planets like Earth that can support life," says Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Washington, D.C. After all, our solar system contains both gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn and smaller, rocky planets, like Earth and Mars.
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Title Annotation:Hubble Space Telescope identifies TMR-1C, first photograph of planet outside solar system
Author:Peters, Andrew
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 21, 1998
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