NASA discovers new planet using Google AI

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Unlike our own solar system however, the chances of life being on the eighth planet are slim as while it is about 30pc larger than our own planet, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 400C, on a par with Mercury.

Researchers from the USA space agency and the tech giant have taught a computer to review massive amounts of Kepler Telescope star data.

But there is only so much one telescope can see when human astronomers are required to search through the data, which is why artificial intelligence (AI) has made huge strides in our search.

The star known as Kepler-90, is just a bit hotter and larger than the Sun; astronomers already knew of seven planets around it.

More planets are expected to be found, because researchers plan to apply their neural network to Kepler's full set of more than 150,000 stars.

"In our own solar system, this pattern is often seen as evidence that the outer planets formed in a cooler part of the solar system, where ice can stay solid and clumped together to make bigger and bigger planets", said Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin and an author of the forthcoming study. In the Kepler-80 system, they found a sixth planet.

"There's a lot of unexplored real estate in the Kepler-90 system", Vanderburg said, "and it would nearly be surprising to me if there weren't any more planets around this star". "You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer", Vanderburg said. Now, an eighth planet has been identified in this planetary system, making it tied with our own solar system in having the highest number of known planets.

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He became interested in exoplanet discovery after learning that astronomy, like other branches of science, is rapidly being inundated with data as the technology for data collection from space advances.

If the researchers lose track of weaker signals or miss them, they would also be losing the possibility to find new exoplanets.

Since 2009, Kepler has discovered thousands of exoplanets ranging between Earth-size and Neptune-size (four times the size of Earth).

"The Kepler mission has so much data, it is impossible to examine manually", Christopher Shallue, a Google AI software engineer, explained during the briefing.

Kepler-90i is what's called a "super-Earth" exoplanet.

All of the planets except for 90i were previously known. "If you have a finer sieve then you will catch more rocks but you might catch more jewels, as well". It also has an orbit of 14.4 days. Shallue said that in his spare time, he "started googling for "finding exoplanets with large data sets" and came across the treasure trove of data from the Kepler mission".

"As the application of neutral networks to Kepler data matures, who knows what might be discovered", said Jessie Dotson, a NASA project scientist for the Kepler space telescope. The scientists "trained" theirs using a set of 15,000 Kepler signals that had already been studied and properly labeled by humans. They essentially trained a computer to identify exoplanets based on Kepler's observations in changing stellar brightness - the subtle, fleeting dip in a star's brightness when a planet passes in front of it. "I'm sure there are more firsts in the data waiting for people to find them".

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