Big Astronomy Begins: Searching for Exoplanets with AI


Wednesday, February 21 2018 - 7:00 pm, PST
Jeff Smith, SETI Institute and Chris Shallue, Google

To uncover the mysteries of the universe, astronomers are becoming greedy, making more observations than they can possibly analyze manually. Large photometric surveys from space telescopes like Kepler and the future TESS are no exception and today modern astronomers use artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to help them reveal the existence of exoplanets hidden in many years of observations of hundreds of thousands of stars. For this SETI Talk, we invited two researchers involved in the Kepler mission and AI to discuss the potential of neural networks to transform astronomy. Jeff Smith, Data scientist at the SETI Institute, has developed data processing and planet detection algorithms for Kepler since 2010 and is now involved in developing the pipeline for the future TESS mission. Chris Shallue, a senior software engineer at Google AI has used a neural network to analyze archival data from the Kepler Space Telescope to reveal the existence of two unknown exoplanets, named Kepler-90i and Kepler-80g. After presenting their recent work, we will discuss the impact of this new mode of scientific discovery, where artificial intelligence can assist humans in mapping out parts of the galaxy that have not yet been fully revealed.

Chris Shallue is a Senior Research Software Engineer on the Google AI team in Mountain View, California. His research is currently focused on machine learning techniques for identifying planets in data collected by the NASA Kepler space telescope. He also works on image captioning, natural language modeling and machine learning theory. Chris was previously a member of the Google Display Ads team where he worked on ad selection and personalization for GMail and Google Maps. Prior to joining Google, Chris was teaching, studying and researching mathematics.

Dr. Jeffrey Smith began his academic passion in the field of High Energy Accelerator Physics. His Ph.D. thesis was on the design of the International Linear Collider (ILC), a 22 mile-long electron-positron accelerator that will complement the discoveries being made at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. After Cornell, Jeff joined the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University to continue his work on the ILC and also to develop upgrade hardware for the LHC.  After a successful career looking into the tiniest of inner-spaces Jeff decided to look up to the stars. Dr. Smith, now at the SETI Institute, develops data processing and planet detection algorithms for the Kepler and TESS Missions. Eking out planet signals in the Kepler data has proven to be a challenging and rewarding endeavor but looking toward the future, Dr. Smith is involved with developing new methods for use with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a new NASA planet finding mission to find Earth’s nearest cousins in a our galactic back yard.

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