Google Helped NASA Discover An Alien Planet


Thanks to Google and some kind of fancy artificial intelligence, we now know that our solar system is only somewhat less unique than we may have actually thought.

Scientists have recently discovered an eighth planet that is circling the sun-like star Kepler-90, 2,545 light-years away. This means that Kepler 90 and our solar system are currently tied for the most number of known planets that are within a star system.

The newly-found planet, which is named Kepler-90i, was discovered using a machine learning technology from Google that effectively teaches a computer to detect patterns in large datasets.

In this case, the dataset was composed of signals that were spotted by the planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope of NASA, which discovers planets by detecting the slight dips in a light of a star that happens when a planet passes in front of its star from the perspective of the Earth. The said movement is called a transit.

NASA said that Google’s Christopher Shallue and Astronomer Andrew Vanderburg trained the artificial intelligence by initially showing it how to pick out transits from the 15,000 signals that they already knew were from actual exoplanets.

After that, they continued to the difficult stuff. Shallue and Vanderburg then utilised the technology to examine the data from the other 670  star systems that they knew had planets in order to discover any other worlds that may be hiding in the data.

Indeed, Kepler-90i is one of those worlds.


“We got lots of false positives of planets, but also potentially more real planets,” Vanderburg stated. “It’s like sifting through rocks to find jewels. If you have a finer sieve then you will catch more rocks, but you might catch more jewels, as well.”

Scientists also discovered another planet, called Kepler-80g, circling a star with five other planets that are orbiting it.

However, Kepler-90i is not the kind of place that you would want to jet off to for a quick vacation.

While the world is rocky, it is also said to be exceedingly hot. The said planet completes an orbit of its star once every 14.4 Earth days and it is possibly that it has an average surface temperature of around 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Kepler 90 system is also very diverse from our own.

If all the eight planets in that system were moved into our own solar system, they would all fit within the orbit of the Earth. In other words, according to NASA, all of the planets are much closer to Kepler 90 than the distance of our Earth to the sun.

“These results demonstrate the enduring value of Kepler’s mission,” said Kepler’s project scientist, Jessie Dotson, in a statement.

“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.”