Scientists use AI to discover an 8th planet orbiting a distant star

Scientists use AI to discover an 8th planet orbiting a distant star

Alphabet's Google and NASA said on Thursday that advanced computer analysis identified two new planets around distant stars, including one that is part of the first star system with as many planets as Earth's solar system.

"Today, Kepler confirms that stars can have large families of planets, just like our solar system", Paul Hertz, director of the US space agency NASA's Astrophysics Division said in a teleconference. The new finding is Kepler-90i, a small, hot, rocky planet with an orbital period of 14.4 days. In machine learning, AI is trained through artificial neural networks - somewhat replicating our brain's biological neural networks - to perform tasks like reading this article.

The Kepler Space Telescope launched in 2009, and has scanned some 150,000 stars. The AI used the data to identify new faint light signals from Kepler-90, leading to the discovery of an eighth planet existing in the distant star system.

The outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the sun. The system surrounds the sun-like star Kepler-90, 2,545 light years from Earth.

This small planet, Kepler-90i, would ordinarily be unremarkable. And while it was the eighth planet discovered in the system, it is actually third in line from the sun-just like Earth. He became interested in exoplanet discovery after learning that astronomy, like other branches of science, is rapidly being inundated with data as the technology for data collection from space advances.

Google AI researcher Christopher Shallue and Andrew, an astrophysicist from UT Austin, worked together to teach a machine learning system how to analyse a trove of data collected by Kepler.

Kepler's four-year dataset consists of 35,000 possible planetary signals.


"Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can't search it for themselves", said Shallue, a senior software engineer at Google AI and lead author of the paper accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

Can Google used this technology to find more planets? However, none of the planets in the new system will support life.

The new planet has been dubbed Kepler-90i.

Astronomers have already confirmed the existence of some 2,500 far-away worlds using Kepler data. Though Kepler looked at one portion of the sky for stars that were farther away for a longer time, TESS will observe the entire sky and focus on the brightest and closest stars, each for 30 days.

Google is also continuing to push machine learning in its more regular product set, with its Sheets app now able to suggest pivot tables from a simple natural language query.

"As the application of neutral networks to Kepler data matures, who knows what might be discovered", said Jessie Dotson, a NASA project scientist for the Kepler space telescope. They thought the machine to recognise and distinguish patterns caused by actual planets and patterns caused by starspots and binary stars. Then, with the neural network having "learned" to detect the pattern of a transiting exoplanet, the researchers directed their model to search for weaker signals in 670 star systems that already had multiple known planets.

Shallue said Google plans to release all the code needed for someone to join the exoplanet search, using a basic home computer and the publicly available Kepler data.

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