The Comet Guy
Supersonic Snowballs, Science, and Stuff
About Karl

Bio, in short

Karl Battams is an astrophysicist and computational scientist based at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington DC. He has operated the NASA-funded Sungrazing Comets Project since 2003. In addition to his comet work, he performs data analysis and visualizations for various ongoing solar physics projects within the NRL Space Science Division.

Bio, ad nauseum

I've had a life-long fascination for science, but I can not truthfully confess to being one of those kids enamored by astronomy my whole life. However, as I wound my way through high school I found my interests converging towards space-related studies, resulting in an undergrad degree in Astrophysics. Not long out of undergrad and following a 6-month stint at an electronics company in Pennsylvania, I started as a contract employee in the NRL Space Science Division (Solar Physics Branch) in late 2003, becoming a federal employee in 2008 and picking up a degree in Computational Science along the way.
My work at NRL is largely split in two divergent areas. I'm best known for the comet work I do, simply because that has a large public outreach component (and people love comets - as they should!). Since I started at the Lab in 2003, I have been in charge of the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project, which is a citizen science project that enables anyone in the world with an internet connection to search for, report and discover previously unknown comets near the Sun. Since I joined the project, I have personally overseen the discovery of more than 2,500 comets, with the project total over 3,000 discoveries now. My role is to maintain the website, confirm/deny reports of comets, and perform the necessary precise astrometric measures of the comets necessary for orbit determinations of the objects. In essence, the amateur astronomers provide the raw data (comet discoveries) and I produce the basic science data (astrometry). 
The other aspect of my work is analysis of the images that our group take with telescopes aboard NASA and ESA spacecraft. So this involves all kinds of computational image processing and analysis, signal and feature detection, time series analysis, high-performance computing, and a lot of software writing. I talk far less about this stuff, but it's just as professionally rewarding to me as the comets. 
Photo of Karl Battams

Outreach

Media

Numerous interviews and quotes for various news outlets, including:   ​Radio interviews for BBC World Service (listen here), CBS, NPR (listen here and here), Planetary Society Radio Show (here) and at least a couple of others.

Professional

Employment:
  • 2003 - 2008: Data Analyst, Interferometrics Inc (Based at the US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC)
  • 2008 - Present: Computational Scientist, US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC
Select Professional Roles:
  • NASA Sungrazer Project PI (2003 - Present)
  • NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign Team Member (2012-2013)
  • NASA Campaign Integration Observations of Comets Team Member (2014)
  • Committee Lead for NRL Code 7000 Exhibits Booth (2011-2013, 2016)  
  • NASA Comet ISON Media Conference (Fall AGU, San Francisco, CA, 2013)
Select Invited Presentations:
  • The Sungrazer Citizen Science Project, Fall AGU (California)
  • Cooking a Thanksgiving Comet: Piecing Together the Evidence for Comet ISON's Destruction, NASA/GSFC (Maryland); Univ. Maryland (Maryland); George Mason University (Virginia); Univ. Central Florida (Florida); IAU General Assembly (Hawaii)
  • The Sungrazer Project: 20yrs and 3,000 Comets Later, Royal Society (London, UK)
  • Observing Near-Sun Comets with SOHO and STEREO, Royal Astronomical Society (London, UK)
  • Sungrazing Comets: Snowballs in Hell, North York Astronomical Association (Ontario, Canada); Fall AGU (California)