Artificial Intelligence Finds Over 6000 Lunar Craters Undiscovered By Humans

Thursday, 15 March 2018 - 7:29PM
Space
Moon
Artificial Intelligence
Thursday, 15 March 2018 - 7:29PM
Artificial Intelligence Finds Over 6000 Lunar Craters Undiscovered By Humans
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NASA
Despite living in the highly advanced 21st century, there's still some things we do the old fashioned way. For example, our list of known craters on the Moon was put together by simply counting the ones we could see.

And like most old fashioned things, we've eventually found a better way to do it, although it was only just figured out. A group of researchers from the University of Toronto and Penn State University developed an artificial intelligence to more accurately map lunar craters, and it worked quickly: within several hours, it had already found about 6000 new ones that no human had ever noticed.




This is precisely what the researchers were hoping for, and it moved much faster and gave them a much bigger number than they expected. The AI was developed from a convolutional neural network, and was first taught to identify craters by receiving data on two thirds of the Moon's surface.

It was then shown the final third to see if it worked, and that's when the AI eventually responded with a much higher number - a few were identified as false positives, but they made up a small fraction of the 6000 new entries. Ari Silburt, a postdoc at Penn State University who helped create the neural network, said the following in a press release:

Opening quote
"Tens of thousands of unidentified small craters are on the moon, and it's unrealistic for humans to efficiently characterize them all by eye. There's real potential for machines to help identify these small craters and reveal undiscovered clues about the formation of our solar system."
Closing quote




Since the Moon has no wind or weather to speak of like Earth does, a crater tends to stay put after an asteroid collision, and the Moon has faced up a large amount of collisions over the 4.5 billion years. It's why this AI can similarly be effective in mapping Mercury, which also has no wind and thus no erosion.

And since some of these craters being discovered are over 4 billion years old, there is a lot we can learn from each one we track down. So in this case, automating the crater-counting process has its advantages.
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