Caltech astronomy professor Michael Brown had been following a tiny speck of light at the fringes of the solar system for months. He said he knew the object, in a distant region of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt, was sure to cause a scientific sensation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Just before he was to announce his discovery, an obscure group of Spanish astronomers claimed the new planetoid as their own.
Within days, 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 his 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 use.
But Brown said the incident should be taken as a warning of the porous and slippery nature of Internet research.