SJSU Professor Natalie Batalha

SJSU Associate Professor Announces Major NASA Discovery

As deputy science team lead for NASA’s Kepler Mission, SJSU Associate Professor Natalie Batalha was at the forefront of today’s confirmation that the mission has discovered its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

“All of Kepler’s best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun,” Batalha said. “The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it’s beginning to pay off.”

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

Nonetheless, “the discovery of Kepler-10b, a bona-fide rocky world, is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to our own,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Although this planet is not in the habitable zone, the exciting find showcases the kinds of discoveries made possible by the mission and the promise of many more to come.”

In a video pairing renderings of the Kepler Mission with narration by Batalha, she notes “it occurred to me that when the light from this star began its journey toward Earth, European navigators were crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in search of new horizons.”

As a member of the Kepler team, Batalha is responsible for the selection of the more than 150,000 stars the spacecraft monitors and works closely with team members at Ames to identify viable planet candidates from Kepler photometry.

Batalha is up next in the University Scholar Series sponsored by the Office of the Provost, University Library and Spartan Bookstore. She will speak at noon Feb. 16 in King 225/229.

Read the NASA news release.

Watch a CNN story.

Read a New York Times story.

Read a San Jose Mercury News story.