Now Anyone Can Hunt for Alien Planets

March 13, 2018
2 minutes read
Now Anyone Can Hunt for Alien Planets

Ever wanted to discover new alien planets? Thanks to new Google released code, you can now be a part of exoplanetary hunting.

Last year, researchers announced they’d discovered two alien planets in the archival data gathered by NASA’s prolific Kepler space telescope. They achieved this using Google machine-learning techniques based on the network of neurons in the human brain.

Now, citizen scientists looking to support discovery at home can use the exoplanet-hunting neural network. Google plans to make it open source, a Google engineer announced recently in a blog post.

“Today, we’re excited to release our code for processing the Kepler data, training our neural network model and making predictions about new candidate signals,” Google senior software engineer Chris Shallue, the lead author of that December discovery study, wrote in a blog post on Thursday (March 8).

“We hope this release will prove a useful starting point for developing similar models for other NASA missions, like K2 (Kepler’s second mission) and the upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission,” Shallue added.

You can find the code, as well as instructions on how to use it, on GitHub.

Discovering Exoplanets

It’s very difficult to find exoplanets and much harder to observe them directly. Astronomers, usually find them when the planets block their star’s light.

Mission scientists use automated software to flag the most promising of these dimming events and then investigate these candidates manually to see if they are indeed evidence of planets.

Kepler spacecraft has returned a ton of data, specifically 30,000 of its strongest stellar signals from 150,000 stars. Out of those, they discovered 2,500 exoplanets.

However, there was a lot more data, but signals were weaker, thus, harder for humans to identify. That’s where the AI (Artificial Intelligence) comes in. AI can discover previously unknown exoplanets because it can recognize patterns in the Kepler data humans couldn’t see.

You can also hunt for exoplanet-induced brightness dips the old-fashioned way at PlanetHunters.org.

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Thumbnail image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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