After a week of anticipation, on Thursday, NASA and Google representatives announced that after reviewing data from the space agency’s Kepler Space Telescope, a pair of researchers has discovered an eighth planet in the Kepler-90 system.
“By applying an advanced technology called a neural network, for the first time, we’ve discovered an eighth planet in a distant planetary system,” Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a teleconference. “This discovery ties Kepler-90 with our own solar system for having the most known planets.”
The discovery was made possible by a machine learning algorithm from Google, which could have significant implications for how Kepler, which is currently in its “K2 mission,” hunts for planets outside our solar system. This most recently discovered planet is known as Kepler-90i. The system it’s located in is about 2,545 light-years from Earth.
“Kepler was the first telescope on the ground or in space capable of detecting planets orbiting sun-like stars,” Hertz added.
This new machine learning technology from Google could be game changing for Kepler’s future. After it launched in 2009, the space telescope’s first mission was to observe stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region. It completed this mission back in 2012 and embarked on its “K2 mission,” which it’s currently carrying out as an exoplanet hunter. K2 has had tremendous success so far — it’s discovered 515 exoplanet candidates and 184 confirmed exoplanets. Not too shabby.
It’ll be exciting to see how astrobiologists, planetary scientists, and tech companies can continue to collaborate and make more big news like this. We’ll certainly be watching and living vicariously through the various spacecraft hunting exoplanets far from Earth.