Nasa and Google find alien solar system similar to ours

A distant solar system has been discovered that contains eight planets just like ours, the first discovery of its kind.

This planet orbits the star known as Kepler-90, some 2,545 light years away, Nasa and Google announced.

It was discovered using Google’s machine learning software, which looked at large amounts of data from Nasa’s Kepler mission with both automated software and manual analysis.

Kepler observed about 200,000 stars for four years, taking a picture every 30 minutes, creating about 14 billion data points.

“Using a dataset of more than 15,000 labelled Kepler signals, we created a TensorFlow model to distinguish planets from non-planets,” Google said in a blog post. 

“To do this, it had to recognise patterns caused by actual planets, versus patterns caused by other objects like starspots and binary stars. When we tested our model on signals it had never seen before, it correctly identified which signals were planets and which signals were not planets 96 per cent of the time.”

Artist impression of the newly discovered solar system

Like Earth, the new planet is the third rock from its sun but is much closer, orbiting in just 14 days with temperatures reaching a scorching 427°C on the surface.

Although all eight planets in the distant solar system orbit closer than Earth does to our Sun, it is the only solar system found with the same number of planets, tying for the most planets observed around a single star.

Our solar system had nine planets until Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union.

While machine learning has been used before in the search for planets beyond our solar system, it is believed to be the first time an artificial neural network like this has been used to find a new world.

“This is a really exciting discovery, and we consider it to be a successful proof of concept to be using neural networks to identify planets, even in challenging situations where the signals are very weak,” said Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google in Mountain View, California.

However, neither Nasa nor Google expect to put astronomers out of business.

Shallue said he sees this as a tool to help astronomers have more impact and increase their productivity. “It certainly will not replace them at all,” he told reporters.

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