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Debutante Xena provokes planetary punch-up

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A fight has broken out between two groups of astronomers over who exactly has the bragging rights over the discovery of the possible 10th planet Xena.

In late July 2005, researchers in Spain and the US both announced, independently, that they had discovered a candidate tenth planet. At the time, the director of the Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center reportedly described the dual discovery as "sort of an awkward situation".

Michael Brown, who led Caltech's research, conceded the discovery to the Spaniards, led by Jose-Luis Ortiz. He had originally planned to announce his findings in September at a meeting of the American Astronomical Union.

The Caltech team had first seen the object in May 2004, much later than the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía group, who had pegged it as interesting way back in 2003.

However, server logs at Caltech revealed that the day before Jose-Luis Ortiz made his announcement, someone at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía had accessed details of Brown's research.

Brown had uploaded information about his team's observations of the candidate planet to the Caltech servers. Information in the abstracts, Brown says, could have been used to work out the position of the candidate planet at any time in the past or future.

Brown says that he emailed Ortiz asking him about the server logs, but having received no reply, he submitted a formal complaint to the International Astronomers Union, alleging at the very least scientific dishonesty, and possibly even fraud, depending on what the information was used for.

According to The New York Times the director of the IAU's Minor Planet Centre, Brian Marsden, is at a loss as to what to do. He says the IAU has no established protocol for dealing with a dispute like this one.

Brown has posted what he calls the full story here.

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