AI Has Changed the Way We Explore Our Solar System

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AI Has Changed the Way We Explore Our Solar System (



from the another-small-step dept.

“Last week at the 2022 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, planetary scientists and astronomers discussed how new machine-learning techniques are changing the way we learn about our solar system,” reports, “from planning for future mission landings on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa to identifying volcanoes on tiny Mercury….”

For many tasks in astronomy, it can take humans months, years or even decades of effort to sift through all the necessary data… “You can find up to 10,000, hundreds of thousands of boulders, and it’s very time consuming,” Nils Prieur, a planetary scientist at Stanford University in California said during his talk at AGU. Prieur’s new machine-learning algorithm can detect boulders across the whole moon in only 30 minutes. It’s important to know where these large chunks of rock are to make sure new missions can land safely at their destinations. Boulders are also useful for geology, providing clues to how impacts break up the rocks around them to create craters.

Computers can identify a number of other planetary phenomena, too: explosive volcanoes on Mercury, vortexes in Jupiter’s thick atmosphere and craters on the moon, to name a few. During the conference, planetary scientist Ethan Duncan, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, demonstrated how machine learning can identify not chunks of rock, but chunks of ice on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. The so-called chaos terrain is a messy-looking swath of Europa’s surface, with bright ice chunks strewn about a darker background. With its underground ocean, Europa is a prime target for astronomers interested in alien life, and mapping these ice chunks will be key to planning future missions.

Upcoming missions could also incorporate artificial intelligence as part of the team, using this tech to empower probes to make real-time responses to hazards and even land autonomously. Landing is a notorious challenge for spacecraft, and always one of the most dangerous times of a mission.

The idle man does not know what it is to enjoy rest.


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