It’s the first time that astronomers are using artificial intelligence to discover planets. NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope made the new discovery.

So, our solar system doesn’t have the most planets anymore. Kepler telescope discovered an eighth planet orbiting around a Sun-like star 2,545 light-years from Earth.

Astronomers found the newly-discovered Kepler-90i using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn”. So, in this case, using data from the Kepler telescope, computers learned to identify exoplanets.

“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”.

Neural Networks

Christopher Shallue, a senior software engineer with Google’s research team Google AI, and Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomer at The University of Texas, Austin, trained the computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler.

So, they learned the machines mimic the way the brain works. They used 15 thousand signals to make the machines using a neural network.

“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,” says Shallue. “Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can’t search it for themselves.”

So, it turns out neural networks are a promising tool for finding some of the weakest signals of distant worlds.

However, the Kepler-90 system doesn’t hold much promise for life.

“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.

The second exoplanet confirmed to be found with this method is a sixth planet in the Kepler-80 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. “This finding shows that our data will be a treasure trove available to innovative researchers for years to come.”

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Thumbnail image: Artist’s impression of the surface of newly-discovered planet Kepler-90i Credit: Screenshot from NASA Ames Research Center YouTube video