NASA: Eighth planet discovered in distant solar system

The newly discovered rocky planet, Kepler-90i, orbits its star ever 14.4 days, is about 30 percent larger than Earth, and has surface temperatures believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
By Delila James | Dec 17, 2017
NASA and Google jointly announced on Thursday the discovery of an eighth planet orbiting a distant star making that solar system similar to our own in number of planets.

To make the discovery, University of Texas at Austin astronomer, Andrew Vanderburg, and Google's Christopher Shallue, a machine learning researcher, collaborated on teaching a computer to identify exoplanets in the weak signals from distant stars recorded by the Kepler space telescope.

The study has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

The star, known as Kepler-90, is located 2.545 light-years from Earth in the constellation Draco.

"The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system," says Vanderburg, in a statement. "You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer."

The newly discovered rocky planet, Kepler-90i, orbits its star ever 14.4 days. It is about 30 percent larger than Earth and has surface temperatures believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to Mercury.

Shallue, a senior software engineer air Google AI, came up with the idea to use artificial intelligence, or a "neural network," to pick up weak signals for exoplanets. Once the computer learned the pattern of a transiting exoplanet, the researchers searched for light signals in 670 star systems.

"Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can't search it for themselves," Shallue said.

Although the researchers picked up lots of false positives, it was worth it, they say.

"It's like sifting through rocks to find jewels," Vanderburg added. "If you have a finer sieve, then you will catch more rocks, but you might catch more jewels as well."

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