NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the “habitable zone” — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope discovered an Earth-like planet circling a nearby star within the Goldilocks zone of our galaxy. Kepler-186f is around 500 light-years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. The habitable zone, also identified as the Goldilocks zone, is the area around a star within which planetary-mass objects with enough atmospheric pressure can sustain liquid water at their surfaces.
Although the size of Kepler-186f is known, its mass and composition are not. Previous research, however, suggests that a planet the size of Kepler-186f is likely to be rocky.
“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”
Scientists recently added a whopping 301 newly validated exoplanets to the total exoplanet tally. The throng of planets is the latest to join the 4,569 already validated planets orbiting a multitude of distant stars. How did scientists discover such a huge number of planets, seemingly all at once? The answer lies with a new deep neural network called ExoMiner.
Deep neural networks are machine learning methods that automatically learn a task when provided with enough data. ExoMiner is a new deep neural network that leverages NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer, and can distinguish real exoplanets from different types of imposters, or “false positives.” Its design is inspired by various tests and properties human experts use to confirm new exoplanets. And it learns by using past confirmed exoplanets and false positive cases.
ExoMiner supplements people who are pros at combing through data and deciphering what is and isn’t a planet. Specifically, data gathered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft and K2, its follow-on mission. For missions like Kepler, with thousands of stars in its field of view, each holding the possibility to host multiple potential exoplanets, it’s a hugely time-consuming task to pore over massive datasets. ExoMiner solves this dilemma.
As the search for more exoplanets continues – with missions using transit photometry such as NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, and the European Space Agency’s upcoming PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, or PLATO, mission – ExoMiner will have more opportunities to prove it’s up to the task.