Natalie Batalha is a professor of astronomy and physics at San Jose State University and the Science Team Lead for NASA’s Kepler Mission, designed to survey our region of the Milky Way Galaxy for planets orbiting other sun-like stars. Batalha has been involved with the mission since the proposal stage and has worked on many different aspects of the science, from studying the stars themselves to understanding the planets they harbor. She led the analysis that yielded the discovery last year of Kepler-10b—the first rocky planet orbiting another sun-like star in our galaxy. Now in its fourth year of operation, Kepler is zeroing in on the answer to the question that drives the mission: are potentially habitable worlds abundant in our galaxy?
Batalha holds a doctorate in astrophysics from the University of California at Santa Cruz. In 2000, inspired by the growing number of exoplanet discoveries at the time, she came to NASA’s Ames Research Center to join a team that was building a robotic observatory to identify exoplanets using the “transit method”—by detecting the slight dimming effect as they pass across the faces of their host stars. An emerging field at the time, transit photometry is now the method the Kepler Mission uses to search for habitable, Earth-sized planets.