Eight planets circle our sun (sorry, Pluto), but our solar system is no longer unique in that number. NASA recently announced the discovery of an eighth planet circling the star Kepler-90, tying our solar system with that one for most number of planets around one star. Machine learning from Google helped researchers discover Kepler-90i, a rocky, hot planet that orbits Kepler-90 every 14.4 days.
Scientists drew on data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to make the exciting discovery: there’s a star system out there with the same number of planets as our own. Kepler-90 is around 2,545 light-years away from Earth, and has eight planets circling it. There probably isn’t life – at least as we know it – on Kepler-90i; the planet’s surface is around 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
“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 Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, in a statement.
The space telescope measures the dip in brightness of stars when planets orbit in front, according to a YouTube video from NASA’s Ames Research Center. So Vanderburg and software engineer Christopher Shallue of Google Brain trained computers to spot signals of small planets to uncover the presence of Kepler-90i.
The two also found a sixth planet in the Kepler-80 system: Kepler-80g, which is Earth-sized. They aim to apply their neural network to the over 150,000 stars in Kepler’s full set. The Astronomical Journal accepted their research for publication.
Jessie Dotson, Kepler project scientist at the Ames Research Center, said, “New ways of looking at the data – such as this early-stage research to apply machine learning algorithms – promises to continue to yield significant advances in our understanding of planetary systems around other stars. I’m sure there are more firsts in the data waiting for people to find them.”