The discovery of an eighth planet circling the distant star Kepler-90 by the University of Texas at Austinastronomer Andrew Vanderburg and Google’s Christopher Shallue overturns our solar system’s status as having the highest number of known planets. We’re now in a tie.
The space organization announced on Thursday that the space agency’s Kepler Space Telescope, for the first time, has discovered the eighth planet in an alien solar system, meaning it has at least as many worlds as our own solar system, reports the Independent.
Kepler has confirmed that other stars can have large amounts of planets orbiting it, just like our own sun.
The star and its solar system were already known about, having been detected by the Kepler space telescope. But the breakthrough came when astronomers found the two new worlds, which was done using Google’s artificial intelligence technology.
NASA said, “Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence, and demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data.”
Kepler-90i is the smallest of the planets in that alien solar system.
Kepler-90 had already made its mark in 2013 as the first seven-planet system identified with Kepler, but the signal from the eighth planet was so weak it was missed by previous methods.
The new planet, estimated to be about 30 percent larger than Earth, is ‘not a place you’d like to visit,’ explains Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin.
The space telescope has been reporting back to Earth since it was launched in 2009 and has made many discoveries about the planets beyond our solar system.
Kepler-90i wasn’t the only jewel this neural network sifted out. In the Kepler-80 system, they found the sixth planet. This one, the Earth-size Kepler-80g, and four of its neighboring planets form what is called a “resonant chain,” where the planets are locked by their mutual gravity in a rhythmic orbital dance. The result is an extremely stable system, similar to the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, so precisely balanced that the length of Kepler-80g’s year could be predicted with mathematics.
So far, it has identified 4,034 planet candidates, 2,335 of which have been verified as exoplanets. Of those, 30 are similar in size to Earth and orbiting in their star’s habitable zone.