Athena Coustenis: Professional Status

Dr Athena Coustenis

LESIA (Bat. 18)
Observatoire de Meudon
5, place Jules Janssen
92195 Meudon Cedex
Tel : +3314507720
Fax : + 33145077426

Born 28 September 1961, in Athens, Greece, French resident, French and Greek nationality.

Short CV: Athena Coustenis is Director of Research 1st class with the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France, working at Paris Observatory in Meudon. Her specialty is Planetology (exploration and study of the Solar System from ground-based and space observations). Her research is devoted to the investigation of planetary atmospheres and surfaces, with emphasis on icy moons like Titan and Enceladus, Saturn’s satellites, and Jupiter’s Ganymede and Europa, objects with high astrobiological potential. She also works on the characterisation of exoplanetary atmospheres. In the recent years she has been leading efforts towards the definition of future space missions. She is also participating in the advisory structure of European and US space agencies and boards.


1986: Master in Astrophysics and Space techniques, Univ. Paris 7 (P. & M. Curie)
1987: Master in English Literature, Univ. Paris 3 (Nouvelle Sorbonne)
1989: PhD in Astrophysics and Space techniques, Univ. Paris 7 (P. & M. Curie)
1989-1991 : Post-Doc at Paris Observatory
1996: Habilitation to Direct Research (HDR), Univ. Paris 6 (P. & M. Curie).

Professional History :

Nov. 2013 – present:
Director of research, 1st class, CNRS, at LESIA, Paris-Meudon Observatory

2008-Nov. 2013:
Director of research, 2nd class, CNRS, at LESIA, Paris-Meudon Observatory

Chargée de recherche (Senior researcher) at Paris-Meudon Observatory

Areas of expertise :

Athena Coustenis is an astrophysicist with a specialty in space exploration. She works in the field of Planetology. Her research is devoted to the investigation of planetary atmospheres and surfaces in the outer solar system, with emphasis on icy moons like Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus, as well as Galilean satellites, like Ganymede and Europa. She has also contributed to efforts to uncover the nature of the atmospheres surrounding extrasolar planets. She has led many observational campaigns from the ground using large telescopes (CFHT, UKIRT, VLT, etc.) and from space with the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) to conduct planetary investigations.

A. Coustenis contributes to the definition and development of space missions and to the exploitation of the acquired data. She is Co-Investigator of three of the instruments (CIRS, HASI, DISR) aboard the Cassini/Huygens space mission to Saturn and Titan, into which she was involved from the beginning of the definition phase. She analyses and interprets the spectro-imaging data recovered since 2004 using her own radiative transfer codes and other tools. In 2007 and 2008 she was the Lead European Scientist of the Titan/Saturn System Mission (TSSM) studied jointly by ESA and NASA. Since 2009, she was involved, as the European Science co-Lead, in the JUICE mission to study Ganymede and the Jovian system, currently planned for launch by ESA in 2022. She is a member of the JUICE Science Working Team and Co-I on the camera (JANUS).

Her expertise in space missions has allowed her to Chair and to participate in several advisory groups within ESA and NASA and other European Institutions. She is currently the Chair of the European Space Science Committee.

Current research management and outreach

  • President of the European Science Foundation Space Sciences Committee (ESF/ESSC) :
  • Member ex-officio of the Space Sciences Advisory Committee (SSAC) of ESA.
  • Member ex-officio of the High-level Science Policy Advisory Committee (HISPAC) of ESA.
  • Member ex-officio of the Human Exploration and Science Advisory Committee (HESAC) of ESA.
  • Member ex-officio of the Space Studies Board of the US National Academies (NAS/SSB)
  • Member ex-officio of the COSPAR European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC)
  • Member /Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA)
  • Member of the Executive committee of ISSI (International Space Sciences Institute)
  • Deputy Coordinator of EUROPLANET RI 2020 :
  • Member of the Outer Solar System Task Group of the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) of IAU.
  • Member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Steering committee for Division F.
  • Vice-Chair of the IUGG Union Commission on Planetary Sciences (UCPS) and immediate Past President of IUGG/IAMAS
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Astronomy & Astrophys. Reviews and of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Library and of the Philosophical Transactions A.
  • Head Guest Editor for special issues of Planetary and Space Sciences.
  • Member of the organizing committee of Bioastronomy and Origins
  • Councilor of ISSOL (
  • Member of the HITRAN International Committee.
  • Chair of the EGU Jean Dominique Cassini Medal committee and member of the Copernicus medal committee
  • Faculty in Post-Master courses at Paris University and Ecole Doctorale
  • Organizer/convener of Meetings and Planetary sessions in the International colloquia of EGU, IUGG/IAMAS, COSPAR, AOGS, DPS, EPSC, Goldschmidt Conference and IPPW.

Past research management and functions

  • Member of the Science Council of Paris Observatory.
  • President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences of the IUGG, 2011-2015.
  • Chair of the Solar System and Exploration Working Group (ESA), 2010-2013.
  • Secretary of the Committee of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), 2010-2014.
  • President of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the European Geophysical Union (EGU), 2009-2013.
  • President of the International Commission for Planetary Atmospheres and Environment (ICPAE) 2003-2011.
  • Member-at-large of the Observing Program Committee for the selection of proposals for the ESO/Very Large Telescope (2001-2003) and chair of Panel C (“Stars, planets and ISM”) until 2006.
  • Member of the National Committee of CNRS (Jury Section 17) until 2012.

Honors :

  • The NASA Group Achievement Award for the Cassini Programme Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI)
  • The NASA Group Achievement Award for the Cassini Program Descent Imager Radiometer Spectrometer (DISR)
  • The NASA Public Service Group Achievement Award for the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI)
  • The NASA Public Service Group Achievement Award for the Descent Imager Spectrometer radiometer (DISR)
  • The ESA Award for making an outstanding contribution to the Huygens Probe.
  • The 2012 Trophy for Feminine Success of the French Mediterranean Association.
  • The 2014 Masursky AAS/DPS Award for meritorious service to Planetary Science.

Production and Outreach :

She has written more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers (H=38), several articles for the public, participated in the juries many public astronomy contests, made several TV and film/documentary appearances in connection to Titan, Cassini and the extrasolar planets. She has delivered more than 500 science lectures, many public conferences on planetology and participated in several television/media documentaries.

 Some significant publications :

  • Coustenis, A., Bézard, B. 1995. Titan’s Atmosphere from Voyager Infrared Observations: IV. Latitudinal Variations in Temperature and Composition. Icarus 115, 126-140.
  • Coustenis, A., Salama, A. Lellouch, E., et al., 1998. Evidence for water vapor in Titan’s atmosphere from ISO/SWS data. Astron. Astrophys. 336, L85-L89.
  • Coustenis, A., Gendron, E., Lai, O., et al., 2001. Images of Titan at 1.3 and 1.6 microns with adaptive optics at the CFHT. Icarus 154, 501-515.
  • Coustenis, A., Salama, A., Schulz, B., et al., 2003. Titan’s atmosphere from ISO mid-infrared spectroscopy. Icarus, 161, 383-403.
  • Moutou, C., Coustenis, A., Schneider, J., Queloz, D., Mayor, M., 2003. Search for the HeI absorption feature in the transmission spectrum of HD209458. Astron. Astroph. 405, 341-348.
  • Coustenis, A., Hirtzig, M., Gendron, E., et al., 2005. Maps of Titan’s surface from 1 to 2.5 micron. Icarus 177, 89-105.
  • Coustenis, A., Negrao, A., Salama, A., et al., 2006. Titan’s 3-micron spectral region from ISO high-resolution spectroscopy. Icarus 180, 176-185.
  • Negrao, A., Coustenis, A., Lellouch, E., et al., 2006. Titan’s surface albedo from near-infrared CFHT/FTS spectra: modeling dependence on the methane absorption. Plan. Space Sci. 54, 1225-1246.
  • Coustenis, A., Achterberg, R., Conrath, B., et al., 2007. The composition of Titan’s stratosphere from Cassini/CIRS mid-infrared spectra. Icarus 189, 35-62.
  • Coustenis, A., 2007. Titan. In the Encyclopedia of the Solar System, Second Edition, P. R. Weissman, L.-A. McFadden, T.V. Johnson, Eds., Academic Press.
  • Coustenis, A., Taylor, F.W., 2008. Titan : Exploring an Earth-like World. World Scientific Press, Singapore.
  • Lavvas, P. P., Coustenis, A., Vardavas, I. M., 2008. Coupling photochemistry with haze formation in Titan’s atmosphere. Part II: Results and Validation with Cassini/Huygens data. Plan. Space Sci. 56, 67-99.
  • Coustenis, A., Atreya, S., Balint, T., and 142 co-authors, 2008. TandEM: Titan and Enceladus mission. Experimental Astronomy, DOI: 10.1007/s10686-008-9103-z.
  • Coustenis, A., Jennings, D., Jolly, A., et al., 2008. Detection of C2HD and the D/H ratio on Titan. Icarus 197, 539-548.
  • Lebreton, J-P., Coustenis, A., Lunine, J., Raulin, F., Owen, T., Strobel, D., 2009. Results from the Huygens probe on Titan. Astron. & Astrophys. Rev., 17, 149-179.
  • Coustenis, A., Jennings, D. E., Nixon, et al., 2010. Titan trace gaseous composition from CIRS at the end of the Cassini-Huygens prime mission. Icarus 207, 461-476.
  • Bampasidis, G., Coustenis, A., et al., 2012. Thermal and temperature structure variations in Titan’s stratosphere during the Cassini mission. Astroph. J. 760, Issue 2, article id. 144, 8 pp.
  • Tinetti, G., Encrenaz, Th., Coustenis, A., 2013. Spectroscopic characterization of exoplanets. Astron. Astrophys. Rev., 21 :63, DOI 10.1007/s00159-013-0063-6.
  • Coustenis, A., Encrenaz, Th., 2013. Life beyond Earth: the search for habitable worlds in the Universe. Cambridge Univ. Press (ouvrage). ISBN: 9781107026179.
  • Grasset, O., Dougherty, M.K., Coustenis, et al., 2013. JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE): an ESA mission to orbit Ganymede and to characterise the Jupiter system. Plan. Space Sci. 78, 1-21.


For other publications see publication list.