Burnt Orange Exoplanets and Artificial Intelligence


  1. Burnt orange exoplanets and artificial intelligence
  2. The faintest of photobombs
  3. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars!

Current events

Two new exoplanets were discovered this week. NOPE! They're not actually burnt orange in color, they're burnt orange because they were discovered by an undergrad astronomer at my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin (our school color is an iconic burnt orange. Hook 'em Horns!)

If there are frontiers to be pushed, the Texas Longhorns will be there! Painting by Jacqueline Brodie Welan, link here

The two exoplanets are about 1,300 light years away in the constellation Aquarius. We already know of ~4,000 exoplanets, why are these two special? Actually, it's not the exoplanets themselves that are special, it's how they were discovered. 

Anne Dattilo, the senior who led the UT astronomy team

Most of the known exoplanets were discovered by NASA's recently retired Kepler space telescope - NASA makes all of its data publicly available, but often times there's so much statistical noise it's hard to distinguish actual evidence of exoplanets from random aberrations. The UT astronomy team partnered with Google to enlist the help of artificial intelligence to sort through the data. The hope is that their algorithm can be applied to the hundreds of thousands of other stars Kepler observed during its mission lifetime. 

Today I learned

So how exactly do we detect exoplanets? The primary method the Kepler space telescope used was called transit photometry, which is just a big word for saying that when an exoplanet passes in front of its star, it dims its light ever so slightly. Although the slight reduction in light is extremely hard to detect and could be confused with sunspots or other anomalies, if it happens at regular intervals, it's likely a planet

Since stars are so much brighter than their planets, it's like trying to find a pebble next to a bonfire. But there are other ways to find exoplanets too! Read here for more (scroll down for the exoplanet section)

This week in space history

On April 2, 1963, the Soviet Union launched their Luna 4 probe which was supposed to perform the first ever unmanned soft landing on the Moon. Although it launched into Earth orbit successfully, its navigation system malfunctioned and its upper stage rocket fired incorrectly, causing the probe to miss the Moon by over 5,000 miles!!

A model of Luna 4

You know what they say, "Aim for the Moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." My guess is that Luna 4 is still in orbit around the Earth-Moon system to this day!

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