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Distant solar system matches ours after 8th planet spotted

Another planet has been spotted orbiting a distant star in what is the first discovery of an eight-planet solar system like ours.

This planet orbits the star known as Kepler-90, some 2,545 light years away, Nasa and Google announced.

Like Earth, the new planet, Kepler-90i, is the third rock from its sun.

But it is much closer to its sun - orbiting in just 14 days - and therefore a scorching 427C at the surface. In fact, all eight planets are scrunched up around this star, orbiting closer than Earth does to our sun.

It is the only eight-planet solar system found like ours, tying for the most planets observed around a single star.

Our solar system had nine planets until Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union.

Google used data collected by Nasa's planet hunter, the Kepler Space Telescope, to develop its machine-learning computer programme. It focuses on weak planetary signals, so feeble and numerous it would take humans ages to examine.

While machine learning has been used before in the search for planets beyond our solar system, it is believed to be the first time an artificial neural network like this has been used to find a new world.

"This is a really exciting discovery, and we consider it to be a successful proof of concept to be using neural networks to identify planets, even in challenging situations where the signals are very weak," said Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google in Mountain View, California.

However, neither Nasa nor Google expect to put astronomers out of business.

Mr Shallue said he sees this as a tool to help astronomers have more impact and increase their productivity. "It certainly will not replace them at all," he told reporters.

AP

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