Spanish astronomers locate a Caltech scientist's data on a search
engine and claim discovery of a planetoid he was tracking.
By John Johnson Jr. and Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writers
Michael Brown, a sandy-haired Caltech astronomy professor, had been
following a tiny speck of light at the fringes of the solar system for
Tiny, maybe. Unimportant? Hardly. The object was one of the brightest
objects in a distant region of the solar system known as the Kuiper
Belt, and Brown knew it was sure to cause a scientific sensation.
Just before he was to announce his discovery, an obscure group of
Spanish astronomers beat him to the punch, claiming the new planetoid
as their own.
"My first reaction was, 'Oh, somebody found it,' " Brown said. "I sent
an e-mail congratulating them."
Within days, however, the discovery touched off a bitter feud over
scientific ethics in the Internet age that continues to reverberate,
with verbal fusillades fired across the Atlantic.
American researchers said they discovered that the Spaniards, led by
Jose Luis Ortiz, used the Internet to peek at computer files showing
where Brown was aiming a Chilean telescope.
Ortiz argues he has done nothing wrong, and the data he found using
the Google search engine should be considered public and thus free to
(pointer from the IP list)
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