Sci-tech

Found: An Eighth Planet Orbiting a Far-Flung Star

Found: An Eighth Planet Orbiting a Far-Flung Star

US Space Agency NASA announced on Thursday that applying artificial intelligence to Kepler telescope star data uncovered a new planet in a distant solar system, bringing the system's total planet count to eight and making it the largest known such system outside of our own.

The eighth planet, which was officially named Kepler-90i, was uncovered in the copious amounts of data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and is described as a "sizzling hot, rocky" planet orbiting its Sun-like star once every 14.4 days.

Andrew Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow, said: "The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system".

As explained in a press release from NASA, researchers were able to identify the previously missed planet by adopting machine learning techniques that are created to find patterns in data the same way human brains do. "This conclusion records that our data will be a treasure trove accessible to innovative scientists for years to come".

Vanderburg and Google AI software engineer Christopher Shallue taught a computer to review some 35,000 planetary signals that the Kepler telescope had collected and identify when the transmitted signals had dimmed.

While 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 apparently hold more promise for life than Kepler-90. Sporting a dizzying orbit of just 14.4 days, this planet is close enough to its host star to be at least 435 degrees Celsius (about 800 degrees Fahrenheit)-decidedly "hot porridge" in Goldilocks parlance. Automated tests, and sometimes human eyes, are used to verify the most promising symbols in the data. However, the weakest signals often are missed using these methods.

First, they prepared the neural network to recognize transiting exoplanets using a set of 15,000 previously-vetted signals from the Kepler exoplanet catalogue. The researchers say the system emerged with the ability to correctly identify false positives about 96 percent of the time.

The Kepler system is an nearly picture-perfect image of our own with inner rocky planets and outer gaseous giants, NASA have said, but its capacity for life is not as high. Their assumption was that multiple-planet systems would be the best places to look for more exoplanets.

Kepler-90i was not the only jewel this neural network filtered out.

The researchers' application also identified a sixth planet in Kepler-80, a different solar system.

While machine learning has been applied before to the Kepler telescope's data, it is believed to be the first time that the technology has unearthed a new world. The result is an extremely stable system, similar to the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, led Kepler mission development.


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