You can now hunt for alien planets with the help of Google

Louella Tangpuz, Trainee
PUBLISHED March 15, 2018 02:15 pm | UPDATED March 15, 2018 04:14 pm
Photo by NASA/Wendy Stenzel

(Inside Manila) In December, NASA and Google researchers announced that they found two new exoplanets using a machine learning technique called a neural network.

And now, the code used to make the discovery has been released for free!

Researchers can now use (and adapt) the computer code to look for new worlds using the data gathered by the Kepler space telescope.

Kepler and its successor, K2, find alien worlds by twinkles in the sky. When a planet passes between a star and a telescope, it creates a temporary dimming. Mission scientists use automated software to flag the most promising of these dimming events and proceed to investigate if they are indeed planets.

The Kepler telescope continuously watched about 150,000 stars, just staring only at a single patch of sky from 2009 to 2013.

Researchers have confirmed the existence of 2,342 exoplanets using Kepler data. On the github page where they uploaded the Google code, the researchers note that there are over three million files of Kepler data and that can take almost a week to download completely. The way Google team found the two exoplanets is by looking at the data in smaller chunks.

Due to the fact that astronomers’ sole focus is only on the possible candidates, a lot of data is left unexamined. Here’s where Google comes in. The neural network takes another looks at the signals the automated software might have missed. It flags likely candidates.

However, the Google program is not perfect. It can still mistake binary stars or other phenomena for planets.

Want to hunt for exoplanets the old-fashioned way? A similar approach is in use for a while now, but instead of using network of neurons in the human brain, the researchers turned to great minds all over the world, releasing Kepler data to projects like Planet hunters and Exoplanet Explorers. It lets citizens look through data and flag potential planets for astronomers to take a closer look.



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