Finding traces of life on other planets is one of the most intriguing and exciting aspects of astronomy. Scientists have long aspired to identify planets that may one day be habitable. With that distant goal in mind, a group of Indian researchers – two students and a professor – have found not one but 60 planets, out of a total of 5,000 known, that may be potentially habitable. To reach this conclusion, the group relied on an artificial intelligence (AI)-based method called the Memetic Multistage Binary Tree Anomaly Identifier (MSMBTAI).
The method used by the researchers is based on the detection of an anomaly through a novel multi-stage memetic algorithm (MSMA). The algorithm can act as a screening tool to assess the habitability prospects of observed properties. What this means is that the researchers considered Earth an anomaly, meaning that it is the only habitable planet among thousands of planets known so far.
Using the standard, researchers have explored whether similar “anomaly candidates” (such as Earth) exist in the universe. His exploration resulted in a staggering 60 planets showing similar anomalies. The result was the same when the method considered the surface temperatures of the planets as a feature and without the surface temperatures. Researchers have also proposed that there could be 8,000 total planets in the universe.
The researchers are from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology based in Bangalore. They were joined by a university student, Kartik Bhatia, from the Goa campus of BITS Pilani and a PhD candidate, Jyotirmoy Sarkar, from the same university. Others also contributed to the study, published in the newspaper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Artificial intelligence helped researchers scan thousands of planets, as comparing data points manually would have been tedious work.
The researchers also had the guidance and supervision of Professor Snehanshu Saha of BITS Pilani (Goa Campus) and Dr. Margarita Safonova of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.