What Can AI Learn About the Universe?

Will AI become indispensable in an age of "big data" astronomy? Credit: DALL-E

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have become ubiquitous, with applications ranging from data analysis, cybersecurity, pharmaceutical development, music composition, and artistic renderings. In recent years, large language models (LLMs) have also emerged, adding human interaction and writing to the long list of applications. This includes ChatGPT, an LLM that has had a profound impact since it was introduced less than two years ago. This application has sparked considerable debate (and controversy) about AI’s potential uses and implications.

Astronomy has also benefitted immensely, where machine learning is used to sort through massive volumes of data to look for signs of planetary transits, correct for atmospheric interference, and find patterns in the noise. According to an international team of astrophysicists, this may just be the beginning of what AI could do for astronomy. In a recent study, the team fine-tuned a Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) model using observations of astronomical objects. In the process, they successfully demonstrated that GPT models can effectively assist with scientific research.

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A Machine Learning Algorithm Finds its First Supernova

Plenty of recent mainstream news articles have touted AI’s ability to assist in the process of scientific discovery. But most of them predicted that it could take years or even decades to see the full effect. Astronomy seems ahead of the curve, though, with the announcement of a new AI system developed by researchers at Northwestern University and elsewhere that can now autonomously detect and classify supernovae.

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Machine Learning Algorithm Scoops up 50 New Exoplanets

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Advances in technology are having a profound impact on astronomy and astrophysics. At one end, we have advanced hardware like adaptive optics, coronographs, and spectrometers that allow for more light to be gathered from the cosmos. At the other end, we have improved software and machine learning algorithms that are allowing for the data to be analyzed and mined for valuable nuggets of information.

One area of research where this is proving to be invaluable is in the hunt for exoplanets and the search for life. At the University of Warwick, technicians recently developed an algorithm that was able to confirm the existence of 50 new exoplanets. When used to sort through archival data, this algorithm was able to sort through a sample of candidates and determine which were actual planets and which were false positives.

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