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Undergrad discovers two exoplanets with AI

The term “artificial intelligence” was coined in a proposal for a research project published August 31, 1955, by John McCarthy (Dartmouth College), Marvin Minsky (Harvard University), Nathaniel Rochester (IBM), and Claude Shannon (Bell Telephone Laboratories). They are credited with launching the new field in 1956 when their project took place. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was an early adopter of AI.

Artificial intelligence is a feature of software written to allow computers to sift through huge amounts of data to find patterns and adjust to new data to accomplish specific tasks.

How powerful is AI? NPR reports how a 22-year-old undergraduate at the University of Texas, Austin, led a team of astronomers to use AI to discovery two exoplanets over 1200 light-years away:

Anne Dattilo, a senior at the University of Texas, Austin, found the planets by using an artificial intelligence program to sift through a mountain of data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. By using AI, the 22-year-old is helping to usher in a new era in astronomical research….

Dattilo modified an artificial intelligence program called AstroNet-K2 to work on data from the latter part of the Kepler mission. Once the modified program found stars that appeared to have planets, Dattilo and her colleagues used ground-based telescopes to confirm the findings.

Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist with NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology, says she’s impressed by what Dattilo’s team accomplished. And in a way, she’s not all that surprised.
“NASA makes all of the data publicly available,” Christiansen says. “You just have to think of a new idea of what to do with the data that no one has done before.”