On December 14 NASA announced that it has discovered two new exoplanets with a little help from Google’s AI. The researchers used the Artificial Intelligence from Google to analyse the data from Kepler- a telescope placed in space.
NASA has discovered an eighth planet around a distant star, which means we’re no longer the largest solar system we know of. The newly found planet is located in the solar system around Kepler-90, a sun-like star about 2,500 light-years away from Earth that was previously discovered in 2014.
The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days. It was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to Artificial Intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets.
Why is exoplanet Kepler-90i more in the discussion?
With the discovery of the eight planet Kepler-90i, the planetary system Kepler 90 has matched our solar system. It has become the first star system to have as many planets as our solar system.
Are there any other features similar to our solar system?
According to NASA website,Kepler-90 planets have a similar configuration to our solar system with small planets found orbiting close to their star, and the larger planets found farther away. In our solar system, this pattern is often seen as evidence that the outer planets formed in a cooler part of the solar system. Where water ice can stay solid and clump together to make bigger and bigger planets. The pattern we see around Kepler-90 could be evidence of that same process happening in this system.
“Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to unearth them,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “This finding shows that our data will be a treasure trove available to innovative researchers for years to come.”
Machine learning has previously been used in searches of the Kepler database. This research demonstrates that neural networks are a promising tool in finding some of the weakest signals of distant worlds.
Other planetary systems probably hold more promise for life than Kepler-90. About 30% larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on par with Mercury. Its outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the Sun.
“The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system. You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer,” said Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.
“What we’ve developed here is a tool to help astronomers have more impact,” Shallue said on a conference call about the news. “It’s a way to increase the productivity of astronomers. It certainly won’t replace them at all.”
“In my spare time, I started googling for ‘finding exoplanets with large data sets’ and found out about the Kepler mission and the huge data set available,” said Shallue. “Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can’t search it for themselves.”
“We got lots of false positives of planets, but also potentially more real planets,” said Vanderburg. “It’s like sifting through rocks to find jewels. If you have a finer sieve then you will catch more rocks but you might catch more jewels, as well.”
Kepler-90i wasn’t the only jewel this neural network sifted out. In the Kepler-80 system, they found a sixth planet. This one, the Earth-sized Kepler-80g, and four of its neighboring planets form what is called a resonant chain – where planets are locked by their mutual gravity in a rhythmic orbital dance. The result is an extremely stable system, similar to the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
Kepler has produced an unprecedented data set for exoplanet hunting. After gazing at one patch of space for four years, the spacecraft now is operating on an extended mission and switches its field of view every 80 days.
“These results demonstrate the enduring value of Kepler’s mission,” said Jessie Dotson, Kepler’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “New ways of looking at the data – such as this early-stage research to apply machine learning algorithms – promises to continue to yield significant advances in our understanding of planetary systems around other stars. I’m sure there are more firsts in the data waiting for people to find them.”
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