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Google discovers new planet which proves Solar System is not unique

Sarah Knapton
The Kepler-90 star system has eight planets, like our own  - Nasa

Google has previously discovered lost tribes, missing ships and even a forgotten forest. But now it has also found two entire planets. The technology giant used one its algorithms to sift through thousands of signals sent back to Earth by Nasa’s Kepler space telescope.

One of the new planets was found hiding in the Kepler-90 star system, which is around 2,200 light years away from Earth.

The discovery is important because it takes the number of planets in the star system up to eight, the same as our own Solar System. It is the first time that any system has been found to have as many planets ours.

Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and Nasa Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin, said:  "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.

The Kepler-90 star system has eight planets, like our own  Credit: Nasa

“For the first time we know for sure the Solar System is not the sole record holder for the number of planets.

“Maybe there are systems out here with so many planets they make ours sound ordinary. It’s very possible that Kepler-90 has even more planets we might not even know about.

“There is a lot of unexplored real estate in Kepler-90 system and it would almost be surprising if there were not more planets in the system.”

The new planet Kepler-90i is about 30 per cent larger than Earth and very hot Credit: Nasa 

The planet Kepler-90i, is a small rocky planet, which orbits so close to its star that the surface temperature is a ‘scorchingly hot’ 800F (426C). It orbits its own sun once every 14 days.

The Google team applied a neural network to scan weak signals discovered by the Kepler exoplanet-hunting telescope which had been missed by humans.

Kepler has already discovered more than 2,500 exoplanets and 1,000 more which are suspected.

The telescope spent four years scanning 150,000 stars looking for dips in their brightness which might suggest an orbiting planet was passing in front.

The Kepler space telescope  Credit: Nasa

Although the observation mission ended in 2013, the spacecraft recorded so much data during its four year mission that scientists expect will be crunching the data for many years to come.

Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google AI in Mountain View, California, who made the discovery, said the algorithm was so simple that it only took two hours to train to spot exoplanets.

Test of the neural network correctly identified true planets and false positives 96 percent of the time. They have promised to release all of the code so that amateurs can train computers to hunt for their own exoplanets.

“Machine learning will become increasingly important for keeping pace with all this data and will help us make more discoveries than ever before,” said Mr Shallue.

“This is really exciting discovery and a successful proof of concept in using neural networks to find planets even in challenging situations where signals are very weak.

“We plan to search all 150,000 stars, we hope using our technique we will be able to find lots of planets including planets like Earth.”

Previously Trappist-1 was found to have the most planets outside of our own Solar System Credit: Nasa 

Before the new discovery, Trappist-1 was the star system with the most planets, with seven.

Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said: “When we launched Kepler in 2009 we didn’t know if planets were common or rare. We now know every star in the night sky has a family of planets orbiting it.

“The archive Kepler data is a treasure trove of information which will bring many more discoveries. Today’s announcement is one such discovery.

“It shows what happens when new scientific methods are applied to archival data.”

Jessie Dotson, Kepler’s project scientist at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, added: "These results demonstrate the enduring value of Kepler’s mission.

“New ways of looking at the data – such as this early-stage research to apply machine learning algorithms – promises to continue to yield significant advances in our understanding of planetary systems around other stars. I’m sure there are more firsts in the data waiting for people to find them.”