Kepler's Year Three Exoplanet Census

Dr Natalie Batalha


San Jose State University and NASA Ames Research Center

Abstract of Lecture:

Humankind's speculation about the existence of other worlds like our own turned into a veritable quest with the launch of NASA's Kepler spacecraft in March 2009. The mission is designed to survey a slice of the Milky Way Galaxy to identify planets via transit photometry. The last year of science operations has been a year of milestones in terms of exoplanet characterization: rocky, Earth-size, circumbinary, Habitable Zone, and even invisible planets have made headlines. However, the real work lies in the large sample statistics of the catalogs of viable planet candidates. The Kepler team recently released its third catalog, consisting of 2,321 viable candidates associated with 1,970 stars. Dr. Batalha will describe some of the milestone discoveries that have marked the last year, the make-up of the new catalog, and the strategies moving forward. Now completeing its third year of operation, Kepler is honing in on the answer to the question that drives the mission: are potentially habitable worlds abundant in our galaxy?

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Dr. Natalie Batalha is a professor of physics and astronomy at San Jose State University in the heart of Silicon Valley, California and the Science Team Lead of NASA's Kepler Mission. She holds a bachelor's in physics from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a doctorate in astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz. Dr. Batalha started her career as a stellar spectroscopist studying young, sun-like stars. After a post-doctoral fellowship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dr. Batalha returned to California. Inspired by the growing number of exoplanet discoveries, she joined the team led by William Borucki at NASA's Ames Research Center working on transit photometry -- an emerging technology for finding exoplanets. Eleven years later, she stands poised with the Kepler team to make discoveries that humans, up to now, have left to the imagination and the realms of science fiction.