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, with emphasis on Earth-like Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite, as well as its smaller cryovolcanic sibling, Enceladus. She also investigates the nature of the Galilean satellites, Ganymede and Europa in particular. She has also contributed to efforts to uncover the nature of the atmospheres surrounding the extrasolar planets. She has led many observational campaigns from the ground using large telescopes (CFHT, UKIRT, VLT, etc) and has used 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 analysis tools. Since 2009, she was involved, as European Science co-Lead, in the JUICE mission to study Ganymede and the Jupiter’s system, currently planned for launch by ESA in 2022. In 2007 and 2008 she was the Lead European Scientist of the Titan/Saturn System Mission (TSSM) studied jointly by ESA and NASA. 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.

Current research management and outreach

  • President Elect of the European Science Foundation Space Sciences Committee (ESF/ESSC)
  • President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences of the IUGG since 2011.
  • Secretary of the Committee of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS)
  • Member of the Science Council of Paris Observatory.
  • Member of the Executive committee of ISSI (International Space Sciences Institute)
  • Professor in Post-Master courses at Paris University and Ecole Doctorale
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Astronomy & Astrophys. Reviews and of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Library
  • Member of the Space Studies Board of the National Academies
  • Head Guest Editor for 10 special issues of Planetary and Space Sciences.
  • Councilor of ISSOL (
  • Chair of the Jean Dominique Cassini Medal EGU committee
  • NASA reviewer for NFS and NSPIRES
  • Member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)
  • Organiser/convener of Meetings and Planetary sessions in the International colloquia of EGU (since 2000), IAMAS (since 2003), COSPAR (since 2010), AOGS (since 2004), DPS (since 2006), EPSC (since 2006), Goldschmidt Conference (since 2007) and IPPW (since 2006).

Past research management and functions

  • Chair of the Solar System and Exploration Working Group (ESA), 2010-2013.
  • Member of the Space Sciences Advisory Committee (SSAC) of ESA, 2010-2013.
  • Member of the Human Exploration and Science Advisory Committee (HESAC) of ESA, 2010-2013.
  • 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.
  • Member of the Executive committee of the Astrobiology Society

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.

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.