Today NASA announced that its Kepler telescope, with the help of Google AI, has discovered the 8th planet in a distant planetary system. The solar system Kepler 90 now ties our own solar system for having the most known planets. The groundbreaking discovery confirms that artificial intelligence can assist astronomers in identifying patterns in space that may be too challenging for humans.
The Kepler Space Telescope launched in 2009, and since then it has discovered 2,337 exoplanets, many of which could be possible candidates for hosting life. The most exciting discovery, made in 2015, was that of Kepler-425b, the first Earth-sized planet to be discovered in a habitable zone around a star.
Building upon human research, NASA utilized Google’s neural network – a sort of artificial intelligence – to make the discovery. Essentially, the system was taught to differentiate between similar but different patterns, expanding its capability and learning over time. Now, the AI has learned enough to identify subtle differences in space to detect weak signals that humans had failed to detect. This led to the discovery of the planet Kepler 90I, which researchers hadn’t noticed after searching the area. NASA says that human researchers may have eventually identified the planet, but the AI made that process much faster and more efficient.
90I is a small, probably rocky planet tucked in the middle of the Kepler 90 solar system. It likely has a thin atmosphere and isn’t very hospitable to life. While Kepler 90 appears to be similar in many ways to our own solar system, it also has some distinct differences: the planets cluster close to the sun, rather than being spread out. It is also possible that this solar system may have more planets that we haven’t identified yet.