Eighth planet found in faraway solar system that matches ours

Gwen Vasquez
December 16, 2017

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.

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.

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. 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.

The Kepler mission, NASA Discovery's tenth mission, first launched in March 2009 with a goal to survey the Milky Way and hunt for Earth-size and smaller planets near the galaxy or "habitable" regions of planets' parent stars.

Mercury, the first and closest planet in our Solar Systems, takes 88 days to orbit the sun.

"The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system", said Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomic researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who worked on the discovery.

For the first time, another solar system has been found in our galaxy with eight planets, just like our own - and it was Google's artificial intelligence that found it.

Besides identifying Kepler-90i, the machine-learning program also confirmed an exoplanet missed by astronomers in yet another solar system: Kepler-80g, the sixth planet in that particular solar system.

This suggests that there may be hidden worlds and solar systems in the data we have already collected but which we have not noticed because there are so many signals to be tracked.

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The eighth planet in the Kepler-90 system has been named Kepler-90i.

It was discovered using machine learning technology from Google, which spots patterns in data sets, to sift through old Kepler data.

Researchers hope astronomers will use this form of automation via machine learning as a tool to help astronomers make more of an impact, increase their productivity and inspire more people become astronomers. It focuses on weak planetary signals — so feeble and numerous it would take humans ages to examine.

"Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can't search it for themselves", Shallue told CNN. "This finding shows that our data will be a treasure trove available to innovative researchers for years to come", said Paul Hertz, the director of NASA's Astrophysics Division in Washington, D.C in a statement. In the test set, the neural network correctly identified true planets and false positives 96 percent of the time.

"There is a lot of unexplored real estate in the Kepler 90 system", said Vanderburg.

"If you have a finer sieve then you will catch more rocks, but you might catch more jewels, as well", he added.

Kepler-90i orbits a sun-like star located 2,545 light-years away in the constellation Draco. The result is an extremely stable system, similar to the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

Their findings will be published in The Astronomical Journal.

But that isn't where its similarities to our own solar system end.

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