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Artificial intelligence helps nail 8-planet solar system like our own

Kepler-90 is a 14th magnitude star in Draco near the border with Cygnus, a.k.a. the Northern Cross. Courtesy photo / Stellarium 1 / 6
Kepler finds planets around other stars by measuring periodic dips in the star’s brightness as a planet (in silhouette) passes in front of it. The graph at right shows the before, during and after effects as a planet transits in front of its host sun. Courtesy photo / NASA 2 / 6
Both the solar system and the Kepler 90 system have an equal number of planets; the layout is also the same with the smaller planets closer to the host star and bigger ones further away. Courtesy photo / NASA 3 / 6
If you could be there, Kepler-90 and its planets might look a little like this artist’s rendering. Courtesy photo / NASA 4 / 6
Newly discovered Kepler 90i lies close to its host sun; its surface bakes at around 800 degrees, as hot as Venus and probably very unfriendly to life. Courtesy photo / NASA 5 / 6
With the discovery of an eighth planet, the Kepler-90 system is the first to tie with our solar system in number of planets. NASA/Wendy Stenzel6 / 6

Every time we think we're in a class by ourselves, it's only a matter of time. Used to be our solar system had the most planets around a single star. But thanks to new data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, we're now tied with the Kepler-90 system, a sun-like star 2,545 light years away in the constellation Draco.

Researchers recently uncovered Kepler-90i, a sizzling-hot eighth planet that orbits Kepler-90 once every 14.4 days. To find it, they used a unique method: machine learning. Machine learning is a type of computer science that gives machines (computers) the ability to go beyond strict programming and learn on their own. In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding instances in the Kepler data where the telescope recorded signals from exoplanets beyond our solar system.

"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, in a news release.

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