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Scientists ‘Googled’ data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope to discover new planet

Artist’s impression of the surface of the newly discovered planet Kepler-90i (Screenshot of NASAAmes Research Center of the YouTube video)

Data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope is calculated with the help of Artificial Intelligence, helps scientists discover a new planet outside our solar system.

Experts used machine learning technology from Google to spot Kepler-90i, a warm, rocky planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2,545 light-years from Earth. A light-year measures distance in space is equal to 6 trillion miles.

The surface of Kepler-90i is 800 degrees Celsius, making it unlikely that life as we know it could exist there, according to NASA.

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By the use of AI, computers have learned to identify the planets by trawls Kepler data for cases where the telescope recorded signals from planets far outside our solar system.

This image provided by NASA shows a comparison of the planets in the solar system and in orbit around the star Kepler-90. An eighth planet, Kepler-90i, is found in the distant solar system, to our own songs. This is the only eight-planet solar system found as the our _ so far. (Wendy Stenzel/NASA’s Ames Research Center via AP)

The discovery means that our solar system is now tied for the most number of planets around a star that, according to NASA.

“We used machine learning to identify planets that were missed by previous searches of the Kepler data,” said Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google, AI, during a press conference on Thursday. “The main idea is to let the computer learn by example.”

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“The Kepler mission had collected so much data that it was impossible for scientists to investigate manually,” he added.

Shallue worked with Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomer and a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin, to the stunning discovery. “For the first time since our solar system planets were discovered thousands of years ago, we know for sure that our solar system is not the only record holder for most planets,” Vanderburg said in a statement.

The experts studied four year dataset of Kepler out of 35,000 possible planetary signals.

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The AI uses what is known as a neural network, which is loosely inspired by the structure of the human brain, to trawl the huge wealth of data. “Andrew and I designed a neural network that can identify planets, even if the signal is weak,” said Shallue. In the first instance, the neural network was trained to identify exoplanets in transit with the help of 15,000 previously-vetted signals from the extrasolar planet Kepler catalog.

The research also led to the discovery of Kepler-80g, a sixth planet in orbit around the Star Kepler-80. “The Earth-sized Kepler-80g, and four of the neighboring planets form what is called a resonant chain – where the planets are locked by their mutual gravity in a rhythmic orbital dance,” said NASA in a statement. “The result is an extremely stable system, similar to the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.”

In 2016, NASA announces the discovery of seven earth-like planets in orbit around the star TRAPPIST-1, almost 40 light-years from Earth.

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A research paper based on Shallue and Vanderburg findings has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

In a tweet, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai described the investigation as a “great example” of how the AI can help with scientific discoveries.

2/2 So excited to be a part 2 newly discovered planets ID’d by Google AI models: Kepler-80 g, and Kepler-90 I — that is in the first 8-planet system outside our own! Great example of how the AI can help w/ the new scientific discoveries. The next stop, hyperspace:) https://t.co/WWE2EuEdui pic.twitter.com/nOjecR57zD

— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) December 14, 2017

Vanderburg and Shallue are planning to adapt their neural network technology, Kepler, and a full set of more than 150,000 stars. “We hope that with the help of this technique, we can see many new planets,” said Shallue.

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“Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technique to unearth them,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington, in a statement. “This finding shows that our data is a treasure available for innovative researchers for the coming years.”

The discovery is only the most recent discovery of the Kepler space telescope. Earlier this year, for example, experts used Kepler data to discover 20 new Earth-like planets.

In 2015 NASA’s Kepler mission discovered Kepler-452b, the first in the vicinity of the Earth-size planet in the’ habitable zone around a sun-like star.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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