If you have an emotional attachment to the differences in our solar system, you may want to look away. We found another galaxy with eight planets, making our own mark. Oh, and a machine learning algorithm from Google is responsible for the discovery.
This is one of two new exoplanets scraped from the vast archive of data from the Kepler space telescope by NASA’s Andrew Vanderburg and Christopher Shallue of the Google AI team. Planets detected by Kepler appear as slight dips in a star’s brightness — the result of the planet passing in front of it and blocking some of the light. Some planets are clearer than others, and the goal here was to loosen up the algorithm by searching previous readings for faint signals that had been missed.
Like all machine learning systems, this system got measurements from previously identified exoplanets to find out what differentiates real signals from accidental blips. The researchers say the system emerged with the ability to correctly identify false positives about 96 percent of the time.
Then the data was entered for 670 stars with at least one planet already identified, with the hope that more would emerge. A handful did, but after eliminating those that could possibly be explained by confounding factors such as interactions with companion stars, two candidates passed all the standard screening steps.
One appears to be a rocky planet only about 30 percent larger than Earth turning 8e planet discovered orbiting a sun-like star, called Kepler-90, which is 2545 light-years away. With a staggering orbital period of just 14.4 days, this planet is close enough to its host star to be at least 435 degrees Celsius (about 800 degrees Fahrenheit) — definitely “hot porridge” in Goldilocks terms. In reality, all eight planets in this galaxy would fit into Earth’s orbit.
The other new exoplanet orbits Kepler-80, which is about half as far away. While it has a very similar orbital period of 14.6 days, it should be a few hundred degrees cooler (though still above the boiling point of water) and even closer to Earth’s size. The newly discovered planet brings the total in the Kepler-80 family to six, five of which are trapped in resonant orbits.
With some success shown, Vanderburg and Shallue plan to feed the rest of Kepler’s data into the system to see what else they can find.