A Machine-Learning Algorithm Just Found 301 Additional Planets in Kepler Data

Artist's concept of the Kepler mission with Earth in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Looking to the future, astronomers are excited to see how machine learning – aka. deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – will enhance surveys. One field that is already benefitting in the search for extrasolar planets, where researchers rely on machine-learning algorithms to distinguish between faint signals and background noise. As this field continues to transition from discovery to characterization, the role of machine intelligence is likely to become even more critical.

Take the Kepler Space Telescope, which accounted for 2879 confirmed discoveries (out of the 4,575 exoplanets discovered made to date) during its nearly ten years of service. After examining the data collected by Kepler using a new deep-learning neural network called ExoMiner, a research team at NASA’s Ames Research Center was able to detect 301 more planetary signals and add them to the growing census of exoplanets.

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Astronomers Find a Planet That Orbits its Star in Just 16 HOURS!

Mercury is the speed champion in our Solar System. It orbits the Sun every 88 days, and its average speed is 47 km/s. Its average distance from the Sun is 58 million km (36 million mi), and it’s so fast it’s named after Mercury, the wing-footed God.

But what if instead of Mercury, Jupiter was closest to the Sun? And what if Jupiter was even closer to the Sun than Mercury and far hotter?

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The Severe Pacific Northwest Flooding Seen From Space

The State of Washington and the Province of BC are in a state of emergency following days of severe wind, rain, and flooding. The situation began when an “atmospheric river” (a plume of moisture) extended over the Pacific Northwest, triggering severe rainfall that caused already-rising rivers to overflow. This led to blocked roads, mudslides, fallen bridges, and thousands of animals drowning in farmland areas.

This extensive damage was photographed from space by Earth observation satellites, one of which was the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel mission and the International Space Station (ISS). These images captured the extent of the floods in the Nooksack and Fraser River valleys this week, which both spilled over their banks this week, leading to washed-out roads and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

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A Space Telescope With one job: Find Habitable Planets at Alpha Centauri

Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our Sun, is like a treasure trove with many scientific discoveries just waiting to be found. Part of what makes it so compelling is that our efforts to detect extrasolar planets there have failed to yield any concrete results to date. While the study of exoplanets has progressed exponentially in recent years, with 4,575 confirmed planets in 3,392 systems in the Milky Way (and even neighboring galaxies), astronomers are still having difficulty determining if anyone is next door.

In the coming decades, Breakthrough Initiatives plans to send a mission there known as Starshot, a lightsail craft that could make the journey in 20 years. On Nov. 16th, Breakthrough Initiatives announced another project for detecting exoplanets next door. It’s called the Telescope for Orbit Locus Interferometric Monitoring of our Astronomical Neighbourhood (TOLIMAN), a space telescope dedicated to finding rocky planets orbiting in Alpha Centauri’s circumsolar habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone”).

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“Incident” that Occurred During Loading Pushes the Webb Launch Date to Dec. 22nd

At Europe’s Spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, technicians are busy getting the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ready for launch. The observatory arrived at the facility on Oct. 12th and was placed inside the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry it to space on Nov. 11th. The upper stage was then hoisted high above the core stage and boosters so that a team of engineers could integrate them.

Unfortunately, an “incident” occurred shortly after when the engineers attempted to attach the upper stage to the launch vehicle adapter (LVA) to the launch vehicle. According to a NASA Blogs post, the incident involved the sudden release of a clamp band (which secures the JWST to the LVA), which sent vibrations throughout the observatory. According to NASA, this incident could push the JWST’s launch date (slated for Dec. 18th) to Dec. 22nd.

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Mother and Daughter Win Tickets for Suborbital Space Ride With Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo in flight

A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.

“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said in a Nov. 24 news release.

Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.

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Did Cosmic Dust Deliver the Phosphorus Needed for Life?

Without phosphorus, there’s no life. It’s a necessary part of DNA, RNA, and other biological molecules like ATP, which helps cells transport energy. But any phosphorus that was present when Earth formed would’ve been sequestered in the center of the molten planet.

So where did phosphorus come from?

It might have come from cosmic dust.

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Comet A1 Leonard Brightens in December

Comet A1 Leonard

Now is the time to start tracking Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard, as it starts its dawn dive sunward.

The days following New Year’s 2021 saw a comet discovery with potential. On the night of January 3rd, exactly one year to the day prior to perihelion, astronomer Gregory J. Leonard working at the Mount Lemmon Observatory near Tucson Arizona discovered the first long-period comet of the year, C/2021 A1 Leonard. Shining at magnitude +19 and 5 Astronomical Units (AU) distant (about the distance of Jupiter from the Sun) at the time of discovery, early indications hinted that comet A1 Leonard might prove to be something special, come the end of 2021.

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Once New Horizons was out Beyond Pluto, it Could Finally Measure the Brightness of the Milky Way

The New Horizons spacecraft has been speeding away from Earth since it launched in 2006. Scientists using the Alice UV imaging spectrograph on board New Horizons, have been patiently but sporadically gathering data during those 15 years, but also waiting to get far enough away from the Sun to make a specific measurement: the brightness of the Lyman-alpha background of the Milky Way. Until now, this had never been measured accurately.

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