Dr. Batalha is a research astronomer in the Space Sciences Division of NASA Ames Research Center and the Kepler Mission Scientist.
She has been involved with the Kepler Mission since the proposal stage, and as one of the original Co-Investigators was responsible for the selection of the more than 150,000 stars the spacecraft monitors. She works closely with team members at Ames to identify viable planet candidates from Kepler photometry. She led the analysis that yielded the discovery in 2011 of Kepler-10b — the first confirmed rocky planet outside our solar system.
Her contributions to the Kepler team efforts are central to the Kepler discoveries that humans, prior, have left to the imagination and the realms of science fiction.
Her career choice, how she got here, and got involved in this mission which found numerous habitable planets outside our solar system, in her own words in this movie made by NASA: Full resolution Low resolution
Natalie Batalha, Co-Investigator, Kepler Mission: TRANSCRIPT
I’m a planet hunter. I’m a co-investigator for NASA’s Kepler mission, whose objective is to find earth-sized planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. I came here as an expert in stellar astronomy, so understanding the stars themselves. So, one of my first jobs here was to pick, of the millions of stars that, at least, our telescope is going to see, which of the 150,000 that we’re actually going to observe.
When I entered college, I was planning on being a business major. So, it’s very far from science and yet, I was always good at math. So that was kind of in the back of my mind. And one day in college, I kind of asked myself, out of the blue, the question “If you could do anything, what would it be?” And I decided, at that moment, I would work for NASA, the space program. I just enrolled in a physics class, applied for an internship which was the key to my professional development and everything else just kind of fell into place. You know when it’s right.
When we’re young, we don’t really know what all the possibilities are. So, when you’re young and you’re growing, I think you just want to be sure you’re trying new things. And you want to pay attention to the things that inspire you. Pay attention to that and follow that path. And ask yourself the question “If you could do anything, what would it be?” And that’s really actually pretty easy to figure out. The answer’s going to come to you, immediately. And when it does, you take a baby-step in that direction. And don’t focus so much on the goal itself, just enjoy the ride, you know? Just take the journey and see where it leads you.
I could not have chosen a career that didn’t have meaning to me and the Kepler mission is just about as meaningful as it gets. I mean, we’re looking for new worlds in our galaxy, places that are potentially habitable. More than that, we’re trying to figure out if earth-like planets are even common in our galaxy. So that when we look up in the sky, we can say that we’re not alone. That’s extremely profound and that’s what drew me here.
Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Kepler Mission