WASHINGTON – NASA announced on Thursday the discovery of an eight planet orbiting Kepler-90, a star comparable to the Sun located 2,545 light-years from Earth.
Researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg detected the planet, dubbed Kepler-90i, by applying Google’s machine-learning technology to data collected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, the US space agency said.
With eight planets, the Kepler-90 system equals our own system in terms of the number of planets orbiting a single star.
Astronomers have yet to detect a system with more than eight planets.
Kepler-90i is thought to have an average surface temperature of 425 C (800 F). The outermost planet in the system, Kepler-90h, is roughly the same distance from its star as the Earth is from the Sun.
“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,” Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.
The notion of using artificial intelligence to analyze data from the Kepler telescope originated with Shallue, a senior software engineer with Google’s AI research team.
“In my spare time, I started googling for ‘finding exoplanets with large data sets’ and found out about the Kepler mission and the huge data set available,” Shallue said. “Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can’t search it for themselves.”
Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington, hailed the find.
“Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to unearth them,” he said.