FLORIDA, United States, Friday December 15, 2017 —A solar system with as many planets as ours has been discovered, the US space agency, NASA, has said.
“Our solar system now is tied for most number of planets around a single star, with the recent discovery of an eighth planet circling Kepler-90, which looks similar to our sun but is 2,545 light years from Earth. The planet was discovered in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope,” NASA announced in a statement yesterday.
The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days – was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets.
“Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to unearth them,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “This finding shows that our data will be a treasure trove available to innovative researchers for years to come.”
Like our solar system, the planets follow a pattern, with the biggest planets positioned nearer to the star. It is possible the Kepler-90 star may have even more planets in its orbit.
“We have may only scratched the surface,” NASA said.
The discovery came about after researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler – the minuscule change in brightness captured when a planet passed in front of, or transited, a star.
About 30 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on par with Mercury. Its outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the Sun.
“The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system. You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer,” said Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.