Google Helps NASA Discover Alien Solar System Much Like Ours With 8 Planets

by 8 months ago

We’ve seen NASA’s Kepler space telescope make incredible discoveries of exoplanets that resemble Earth, just last month the spacecraft discovered 219 exoplanets, including 10 that could possibly support life. A year ago, NASA found 1,284 new exoplanets, including nine that are potentially habitable. Now the Kepler spacecraft with the help of Google has discovered two new exoplanets and found a solar systems is actually much like our own.

Utilizing data from the Kepler telescope, researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings. The computers examined any minuscule change in brightness coming from Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2,545 light years from Earth. The researchers were able to identify an eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90 that were previously missed.

Shallue is a senior software engineer with Google’s research team Google AI. He took Kepler’s four-year dataset, which is made up of 35,000 possible planetary signals, and entered it into his planet-finding computer. “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,” said Shallue. “Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can’t search it for themselves.”

NASA explains how the computer was able to find the new planet:

First, they trained the neural network to identify transiting exoplanets using a set of 15,000 previously-vetted signals from the Kepler exoplanet catalogue. In the test set, the neural network correctly identified true planets and false positives 96 percent of the time. Then, with the neural network having “learned” to detect the pattern of a transiting exoplanet, the researchers directed their model to search for weaker signals in 670 star systems that already had multiple known planets. Their assumption was that multiple-planet systems would be the best places to look for more exoplanets.

The duo, who did a Reddit AMA on Thursday, as well as NASA scientists believe there could be more exoplanets hiding in the data. “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.”

One of the newly-discovered planets is called Kepler-90i and is about 30% larger than Earth, but it is a tad bit warmer than our beloved planet with surface temperatures of around 800 degrees. The planet is believed to be a rocket planet and orbits its host star once every 14.4 days. With the discovery of the eighth planet from the solar system in the constellation Draco, our own solar system is now tied for most number of planets around a single star. As far as finding life in this solar system, the greatest hope lies with Kepler-90h, the outermost planet that orbits its star at a similar distance as Earth does to the Sun. All the planets in the Kepler-90 system are larger than Earth and also has Jupiter-like gas giants.

“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. They also discovered the Earth-sized Kepler-80g in the Kepler-80 system, the sixth planet found in that solar system. Since launching in 2009, Kepler has watched more than 150,000 stars in one part of the sky to determine exoplanet candidates. So we must ask, where are the aliens already?



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