A newly discovered planet, Kepler-90i, means that the Kepler-90 star now has tied for most planets orbiting a single star with our own solar system.
The discovery, made with the help of artificial intelligence machine learning, is a rocky planet that reaches temperatures over a scorching 426 degrees Celsius, similar to Mercury.
Kepler-90i is around 30% larger than Earth, but it has a closer orbit to its sun, completing its orbit in 14.4 days.
The planet was discovered as a result of researcher Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg teaching a computer to identify exoplanets by dip in the sun’s observable brightness as a planet passes in front of it.
“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.”
Mr Shallue, a senior software engineer with Google’s research team Google AI, thought of the idea after learning about the impossibly large data sets that scientists have to go through to make discoveries.
Within Kepler’s four year dataset there were 35,000 possible planetary signals, the most promising of which are checked with either automated tests or human eyes.
“In my spare time, I started googling for ‘finding exoplanets with large data sets’ and found out about the Kepler mission and the huge data set available,” said Shallue.
“Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can’t search it for themselves.”
This new method also found a new planet in the Kepler-80 system, the Earth sized Kepler-80g.
Kepler-80g and four of its neighbouring planets are locked by each other’s gravity into a rhythmic orbital dance, known as a resonant chain.
Picture Courtesy: NASA