Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Just Discovered New Planets

December 14, 2017

The Kepler space telescope, which launched in 2009, has produced more than 30,000 signals measuring light from stars to search for possible planets in distant parts of the galaxy. Sifting through that and other telescope data, astronomers have found more than 3,500 planets, up from 329 known before the Kepler mission. Now artificial intelligence is helping to find even more.

On Thursday, researchers from Google and University of Texas at Austin announced that a machine-learning algorithm had discovered two new planets, Kepler 80g and Kepler 90i. Kepler 90i is a particularly special discovery—it’s the eighth planet orbiting its star, marking the first system outside our own known to have eight planets.

To find the planets, the researchers trained an algorithm on 15,000 labeled signals from Kepler data, provided by NASA, to recognize what is and isn’t a planet. In tests, the algorithm could correctly identify which signals reflected planets and which did not 96 percent of the time.

After that successful test, the researchers focused on searching through signals around 670 stars that were known to have planets already, which is where they found two new planets that they’d missed before.

“It’s like needles in a haystack,” Chris Shallue, a senior engineer at Google AI and one of the researchers on the project, said in a conference call about the discovery.

It’s a good thing researchers are now armed with AI to help in their search, because there’s plenty more data to get through. During its four-year initial mission, Kepler observed 200,000 stars, creating about 14 billion data points in the process. Shallue said that with so much data, their algorithm stands to find a lot more planets—including ones with Earth-like conditions.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent

My avatars were cartoonishly pornified, while my male colleagues got to be astronauts, explorers, and inventors.

Roomba testers feel misled after intimate images ended up on Facebook

An MIT Technology Review investigation recently revealed how images of a minor and a tester on the toilet ended up on social media. iRobot said it had consent to collect this kind of data from inside homes—but participants say otherwise.

How to spot AI-generated text

The internet is increasingly awash with text written by AI software. We need new tools to detect it.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.