Find Alien Life and Discover New Exoplanets With Google's New Machine-Learning Algorithm
Some people like to unwind by bingewatching Netflix. Some people like to curl up with a good book. But now, when someone asks you "What do you do for fun?" you can answer "I look for undiscovered exoplanets in the far reaches of space."
NASA and Google have been working together to spot new potential planets in vast reams of data from the Kepler telescope, but now they've announced that both the Kepler data and Google's high-tech algorithm are available for anyone to use. They've also released some basic instructions on how to find your own planets.
To bring you up to speed, the main method NASA is using to identify potential planets is by detecting "transits," which are dips in a star's brightness caused by something passing in front of it. Transits can be caused by a number of different things (including other stars), but the most exciting ones are caused by orbiting exoplanets. Picking out the planets from the other transit sources is a problem, however—after scientists detect a transit, they have to manually look at the data to figure out if it's the real deal. If they did that with every transit, it would take them forever. Instead, they weed out all the data that doesn't meet a certain signal-to-noise ratio automatically, leaving them with only the best candidates.
It's not an ideal solution, however. According to Google:
"There's a tantalizing incentive: it's possible that some potentially habitable planets like Earth, which are relatively small and orbit around relatively dim stars, might be hiding just below the traditional detection threshold—there might be hidden gems still undiscovered in the Kepler data!"
This is where all you ambitious junior planet-seekers come in. You can download Google's neural net program, AstroNet, and the Kepler data from Github here and starting learning how to use it now. You can also read the post on Google's development blog for an overview on how it all works. We're not going to promise that you'll be able to name any planets you find, but you will be able to put "planet explorer" on your resume.