August 29, 2013
Natalie Batalha —
Exoplanets and Love: Science That Connects Us to One Another

A mission scientist with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, Natalie Batalha hunts for exoplanets — Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system that might harbor life. She speaks about unexpected connections between things like love and dark energy, science and gratitude, and how "exploring the heavens" brings the beauty of the cosmos and the exuberance of scientific discovery closer to us all.

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is a research astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center and a mission scientist with the Kepler Space Telescope.

About the Image

View of the Milky Way behind the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mt. Graham, Arizona.

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Funding provided in part by the John Templeton Foundation.

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You might want to see what Issam Nemeh M.D. is all about. There is a news story on WXYZ TV in Detroit that is showcasing the miracles that happen when this man prays for people.
NASA and Harvard medical school are now joining Dr Nemeh in researching "The Field" that is created during his prayer. Dr Nemeh often speaks about how there is no separation between God and science. He has the impossible stories to back it up - Harvard and NASA agree.
Here's one of the links


I am so grateful to On Being for its fantastic series of programs exploring the crossroads (or not) between science and spirituality; Batalha, Livio, Levin, Consolmagno/Coyne, etc. I had been so thirsty for this kind of thoughtful conversation; thank you for the programs and the reading/music links!

First of all Krista thank you and Natalie for this wonderful discussion of astronomy and science. It was very enlightening and will give me food for thought the next time I look out on a starry night -- especially thinking about the 2 experiences Natalie talked about at the end of the broadcast.

Coming from a more spiritual perspective than scientific there was one part of the discussion where Natalie spoke of looking at the sky and not only feeling a sense of wonder and awe but a sense of loneliness. I wondered about that and if her feeling of loneliness was coming more from a scientific perspective with searching for life on other planets or personal.

I guess when I look out at a starry sky I've never felt lonely. I felt a sense of awe and wonder, sometimes fear because of the awesomeness, but not lonely. Most of the time, I feel drawn in or up as if the sky is a magnet.

What would be your thoughts on this?

Thank you.

Your interview made me ponder what forms life might take on exoplanets. I wondered how humans would treat other species if they appeared less intelligent than us. Would we treat them the way we treat our animals here on earth?

Then I imagined a more intelligent species observing humanity and our interactions with our fellow earth species. Perhaps they would avoid contact with us until they see that we are treating our home species with the mutual respect that all sentient beings deserve.

Just an observation...

Krista - great show. Thanks so much.

Thank you, Erick . . . This same thought occurred to me as well. It seems humans have a way to go in developing respect for all species--animals and plants--as well as other humans before considering the possibility of interacting with "other species." We don't have a great track record in that regard!

possibility of

As the son of a geologist and an English teacher, I find a refreshing humility and exuberance in this ongoing conversation between human beings and a surrounding infinity of perpetual surprise. Always nourishing to reconnect with the perspective that sees people as embodied mysteries looking out at mystery. I appreciate the glimpse of a reality that not only evolves but changes the face it presents to us as we change our ways of seeing it. Dr. Batalha's astronomical epiphanies are gems found on a quest to retain coherence while co-evolving along with everything else, moving outward to become what we will be.

First let me say thank you for a wonderful experience. Life doesn't get much better than being in on truth and beauty, and that's what the conversation between Krista and Natalie is, the human mind living up to its ability to understand truth and create beauty.

In the current geopolitical and sociological context I feel lucky to live in a society that in hopefully a majority of cases respects science and women. The program airs here in Philadelphia at 7:00 AM so the next program began with a news roundup, including as usual news from places where people are blowing each other up over disagreements concerning ancient, disproven beliefs about the universe and our place in it. I hope your program eventually reaches those desecrated places. I hope it reaches those right here who need to hear it, like about half of our own government.

I liked the show, and missed a question about quantum physics, which really turned traditional physics upside down.
"The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine." Sir James Jeans
Will you do a show on quantum physics? Have you done it already?

How beautifully expressed, the interconnectness of us all! Every once in awhile I actually have a brief moment of understsnding and it's almost too heady (for me) to bear! There is no doubt the the intensity of the feeling stems from the deep love that it necessarily invokes. I can't help hut love everyone and everything in existance... since everything is a part of my own existance.
That concept is so powerful, and life changing, it is difficult to maintain.
I so loved listening to this discusdion, and thank you and krista for bringing it to me. I will share with as many as will listen.
I especially loved your description of laying on uour back snd all thst you could see... the milky way bending, the planets, the constellations... I too had that wonderful experience while I was living on the desert in Arizona. Wiyh absolutrly no light polution and a range of lunar positions, I could lie there all night and and be astounded by the magical, miraculous, and totally inspiring beauty of the universe. The diffrrence between you and I however, is that I did not have the knowledge to understand it. I DID, however, become completely engrossed in the interconnectness of it all, and that as minute as I was, I was somehow a part of thw whole story.
Th a nk you, thank you for so eloquently presenting scientific data with your magnificent literary paintbrush!
Now to find your website ....and then to friend you. :-)

Enjoying the recording of your interview with Natalie Batalha - some great a-ha moments and awe-ful moments of inspiration. But I also have a question about something she said that didn't sound right to me: In talking about the method of searching for dimming of light that indicates a possible exoplanet, she said these dimmings would only happen once a year. That puzzled me because our "year" relates to the orbit of earth around our sun. Wouldn't those exoplanets orbit their "suns" in differing cycles totally independent of our cycles?

I found the discussion this morning with Ms Batalha both provocative and interesting.

But did I hear in her enthusiasm a substitution of the very Heaven of Christianity with the wonder of exoplanets and mysteries of outer space? …and in this substitution, an investment of hope and redemption for mankind?

I kept wanting her to return to earth.

In the future light-years of travel might be compressed - or other communication possible - but these planets, no matter how numerous or inhabitable, are impossibly distant and inaccessible.

Meanwhile, we must guard against an exo-wonder becoming a dangerous distraction from the urgent necessity to understand the forces of human nature threatening the very planet on which we stand.

Can't believe I am sitting here listening to you all talk about Discovery and Science! So refreshing- I started a hands on science museum in a small town in Tennessee-- I'm sure I was driven to do this because my dad was an astro-physicist and my mom was a teacher--- i grew up a stones throw from a 120 inch reflector telescope -- that, in itself, was life altering!

Thanks for the fantastic conversation-- hopefully we can open up more and more people to the joy of discovery!

Sigh ... RE: ' middle aged white men in lab coats' .

I grew up in the fifties a fan of Glenn Seaborg. I went on to a research career in chemistry after earning a doctorate. I'm African American and grew up in the South Bronx. I was scientifically curious from the time I could walk according to my parents. I wish people like Natalie Batalhe stopped sending the signal you need to see someone doing science who "looks like you" before you pursue a science passion. After all someone had to be the first.

Otherwise the program was a fascinating listen.

Inspired me to write this Haiku:

Elemental dust
Portal to the Universe
Let Love dance back through

This was an amazing program. Natalie Batalha's work at NASA has exposed her to the wonders of the universe, and she explains how science and understanding make everything beautiful and amazing.

Early on she explains that she has an "...intense reverence for the mysteries of the cosmos and this drive of discovery, this drive to know..." Her words really resonated with me. I have never been much of a scientist, but I have always found all aspects of science fascinating, and for this exact reason. I like learning, I like discovering things I didn't know. Even rather mundane discoveries, like why the oceans are blue, still thrill me. Batalha goes on to explain that she thinks there is "...something innate about us human beings that makes us want to seek the unknown, to push the boundaries, to find new horizons, to see new things." I think this is definitely a big part of what it means to be human. As a species, we want to learn, we want to know. New discoveries are like some glorious drug, one of which we always need just one more hit. We can't help but wonder what's over that hill, or what that food tastes like, or what those lights in the sky are, and why do they glow? Once we've asked these questions, we have to find the answers, and then we have ever more questions.

Another thing that struck me in this program was Batalha talking about the staggering wonder and scale of the universe. As a kid I was taught that the universe was big, and that was it. Later on in life, when I was presented with the sheer immensity of it all, I was floored. What's more, that was just the immensity in the limited way my brain could actually conceive it. It was just drawings and words, not the spectacle itself. As Batalha says, it can be a lonely feeling, looking up at the universe, but it can also be wonderful. Realizing that you are but a tiny speck within the enormity of the universe doesn't have to be depressing. Instead, it can be a beautiful thing to realize that one has a place within all that grandeur. I felt similar when I first made my feeble grasp at understanding the scope of the universe. I didn't feel worthless or alone, I felt thrilled. I was thrilled that my world had just grown so exponentially, that there was so much more going on than I realized, and that I got to be not only a witness to the workings of everything, but some part of it too.

Everything Natalie Batalha said about the incredible immensity of the universe, about loving her place in it and wanting, needing to know more, all of it struck a chord with me. I've felt this way myself for a long time, and am astounded whenever I meet people who don't. I am flabbergasted. I truly believe that as a child they had the same curiosity we all did, but somehow they lost it or stifled it. These people then usually don't fully appreciate science, which is a tragedy. At its core, science is just people trying to find answers, and I think that's something that speaks to everyone. Perhaps listening to her speak will help them to understand and appreciate the universe a little better.

Ms. Batalha is brilliant and so lucid! One instantly loves her as a fellow human. Her work is extraordinary and gives more insight into life here and the cosmos. Her comments about not knowing why we are here and what the future holds is so true and humbling. She is a good reason why I support the work of NASA. I wish her well, with much joy and wonder! I only wish there were millions of people like her! What a wonderfully better earth we would have!

I really hate to be reminded that most? all? geeks are primitives. Can someone explain to Natalie (slowly, slowly, slowly - she didn't have an hour of history in her life and isn't familiar with the concept "human nature") that's a lie that "persistence ALWAYS leads to greatness."
A pompous idiot.

Dashed notes on the back of an envelope at stop lights while I listened!!! Batalha's thrill of discovery is contagious! Her respect for the unique mind as a sophisticated pattern recognition tool that compliments big data algorithm analyses is bold. Her work with the Keppler data and her personal wonder while surrounded by stars...this harmony of big and little is what the billions of years ask of us! Thank you for this interview!

I loved the interview in places, found it frustrating in others. Dr Batalha has a maddening optimism and appreciation for things that a contrarian like myself finds challenging to listen to (but that's almost certainly a good thing). She also has a physicists certainty of living in a mathematically defined universe, where even the deep mysteries are actionable and tractable. Having come from physics to struggle with less-well-defined fields (such as neurophysiology or endocrinology or immunology); their mysteries are actually more complex, more messy, more contentious, less ideal and therefore maybe even a little more human.

The one piece of the broadcast that got to me was her reverence for Kepler and his persistence (perhaps he was one of those white middle aged men, who boringly and painstakingly worked long hours in a lab with a white coat on, ironically enough) ... In part, this is because I am currently writing this note at my computer in the lab at 11:07pm, goofing off from debugging software that I have to get to work so that I can gather preliminary data for an NIH proposal that is due in about three and a half weeks. My current funding situation could only really be accurately described as 'dire' and there is a very real possibility that I will lose my job if I am not successful...

So, in the space of the questions and struggles that naturally arise in such a time, the thought of scientists who pursue their intuition to ask their own specific questions persistently and patiently is a thought far more inspiring to me than much-repeated poetic aphorisms of science and stardust.

Thank you.

Gully Burns

Love your radio program this is very insiteful Kepler search if fasinating. We are present in one solar system in a vast array of stars, cosmos and why are we here and what is our potential