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A Different Type of Search Engine: Google’s AI Examines NASA Data and Uncovers a New Planet

NASA and Google announced a “major discovery” on Thursday: another system with its own set of 8 planets. How cool is that?

While astronomers have known about the solar system (called Kepler-90), they had only been able to identify 7 of its planets. However, using new AI software developed by Google, they were able to identify an 8th planet, Kepler-90i, which was just hanging out in the data not to anyone’s knowledge. The AI used its machine-learning software to search through data already recorded by NASA’s Kepler observatory in order to find the information on the newly discovered planet.

Kepler-90i revolves around its sun-like star about 2,545 lightyears from Earth, and it looks to have a particularly high surface temperature, which is estimated to be about 1,800° Fahrenheit (about 982° Celcius), making the planet almost definitely inhabitable. Its insanely high surface temperature makes sense, considering Kepler-90i is so close to its sun that it completes a full orbit in only 2 weeks. However, it’s only the 3rd planet from the sun in its solar system, meaning that the 2 in front of it could be even hotter.

Business Insider

An astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin who helped discover the planet, Andrew Vanderburg, said in a press conference, “Kepler-90i is not a place I’d like to go visit.”

The reason that Kepler-90i was missed by astronomers was that, despite working with over 35,000 strong signals in the Kepler data, they sort of ignored the weaker signals. It was the AI’s examination of these weaker signals that revealed Kepler-90i’s presence.

Christopher Shallue, a Google AI software engineer who assisted Vanderburg in his work, said, “The way I see it, what we’ve developed here is a tool to help astronomers have more impact.”

Shallue and Vanderburg have also found a second new planet, Kepler-80g, which seems similar to the Trappist-1 system, which contains potentially habitable worlds.

Even before this particular analysis, astronomers have been able to identify 219 new planets which turned up during the Kepler’s two missions. NASA has confirmed 2,525 total exoplanets in Kepler’s data, around 10 of which are believed to be habitable.

All that has to come next is the discovery of alien life. I cannot wait for that to happen.

[via Business Insider]

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