Astronomers Using AI to Analyze the Universe – Fast

The next generation of powerful telescopes will scan millions of stars and generate massive amounts of data that astronomers will be tasked with analyzing. That’s way too much data for people to sift through and model themselves — so astronomers are turning to AI to help them do it.

How they’re using it:

1) Coordinate telescopes. The large telescopes that will survey the sky will be looking for transient events — new signals or sources that “go bump in the night,” says Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Tom Vestrand.

2) Analyze data. Every 30 minutes for two years, NASA’s new Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will send back full frame photos of almost half the sky, giving astronomers some 20 million stars to analyze. Over 10 years there will be 50 million gigabytes of raw data collected.

3) Mine data. “Most astronomy data is thrown away but some can hold deep physical information that we don’t know how to extract,” says Joshua Peek from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Why it’s hot:

Algorithms have helped astronomers for a while, but recent advances in AI — especially image recognition and faster, more inexpensive computing power —mean the techniques can be used by more researchers. The new AI will automate the process and be able to understand and identify things that humans may not even know exists or begin to understand.

 “How do you write software to discover things that you don’t know how to describe?There are normal unusual events, but what about the ones we don’t even know about? How do you handle those? That will be where real discoveries happen because by definition you don’t know what they are.” – Tom Vestrand National Laboratory