Eight Planets Found Orbiting Distant Star, NASA Says

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 16, 2017

Two small planets within its orbit, known as 90b and 90c, revolve around Kepler-90 every seven and nine days, respectively.

A "sizzling hot, rocky planet", as described by NASA, Kepler-90i was spotted by a neural network trained to recognize exoplanets in the light readings recorded by the Kepler space observatory. The data was then analysed using machine learning technology from Google.

"Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to unearth them", Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division in Washington said in NASA's press release. 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.

"About 30 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), on par with Mercury", NASA said in a statement. It orbits its star once every 14.4 days. In fact, all eight planets are scrunched up around this star, orbiting closer than Earth does to our sun.

As for Kepler-90, there's the chance more worlds orbit its star.

The star, called Kepler-90, is located in the Draco constellation.

Our solar system had nine planets until Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union, a decision that still stands.

With the discovery of the eight planet Kepler-90i, the planetary system Kepler 90 has matched our solar system.

Advancements in hardware and new techniques for machine learning have made it possible in recent years for automated software to tackle data analysis in science, finance and other industries. "It can be used to classify inputs, in this case signals from the Kepler telescope, as either planet, or not planet".

"I became interested in applying neural networks to astronomy when I learned that the Kepler mission had collected so much data that it was impossible for scientists to examine it all manually", said Christopher Shallue, a senior software engineer with Google's research team. Astronomers have looked at just the strongest signals from the 150,000 stars that the Kepler mission studied. However, none of the planets in the new system will support life.

Machine learning had not been applied to data acquired by the Kepler telescope until Mr Shallue came up with the idea.

"We've come a long way in our understanding of planetary systems", said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Northern California, which manages the Kepler and K2 missions.

In all, more than 3,560 exoplanets have been confirmed to date - two-thirds of them spotted by the 2009-launched Kepler - with another approximately 4,500 candidates awaiting verification. The computer creates a neural network like the human brain. There are several groups using it to find rare, ultrafast stars, hot Jupiters, gravitational lenses, and recover blurry images of galaxies.

It was detected via tiny dips in the brightness of the star when the planet passed in front of it.

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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