NASA scientists studying a star system with seven known planets have just discovered that it has an eighth. The scientists, who made their discovery while working with NASA’s Kepler space-based telescope, announced that this makes the star system the first one we know of to have as many planets as our own.
The planet appears to be solid like Earth but is a 1.3 times as large and is a searing 420 degrees Celsius on its surface. The star, Kepler 90, is 2,500 light-years from Earth and is part of the constellation Draco.
The Kepler scientists named the newly found planet Kepler 90i and said that they spotted it with help from artificial-intelligence specialists at Google who analyzed the data coming in from the space-based telescope.
The Kepler telescope detects planets by finding the shadows they cast on their parent stars as they orbit them. Kepler has discovered more than 2,300 confirmed new planets while observing 150,000 stars so far this way. But NASA suspected that Kepler was not finding every planet around these stars and sought Google’s help
Google researcher Christopher Shallue trained a neural network to scour the telescope’s data for any faint traces of planetary shadows. This AI-enhanced search revealed Kepler 90’s sixth planet, Kepler 80g; and later Kepler 90i. The scientists now hope to use Google’s system to analyze the 150,000 other stars Kepler has observed and see if more previously unseen planets turn up.
“What is perhaps most exciting is that they are able to find planets that were previously missed, suggesting there are more yet to be found using this approach,” said Suzanne Aigrain, an Oxford University astrophysicist who was not involved in the discovery.
A paper on the Kepler findings will be published in the upcoming edition of the Astronomical Journal.