Athena Coustenis is an Astrophysicist specialising in Planetology, Director of Research with the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France, working at Paris Observatory in Meudon.
ATHENA COUSTENIS
PLANETARY SCIENTIST
View from a Titan lake shore, collage © Dimitris Sivyllis 

About

 

Athena Coustenis
Director of Research, CNRS

LESIA, Paris-Meudon Observatory, France

Athena Coustenis is an Astrophysicist, 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 the outer solar system bodies, in particular 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. 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 recently completed Cassini-Huygens space mission to Saturn and Titan, in 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.

She has contributed in or led several other proposals, studies and development phases for space missions to the outer solar system and the exoplanets. Her expertise in space missions has allowed her to Chair or to participate in several advisory groups within ESA and NASA and other European Institutions. She is currently the Chair of the European Science Foundation Space Science Committee (ESF-ESSC).

 

Latest news:

September 15, 2017:
Cassini Grand Finale
Press release: Titan experiences dramatic seasonal changes
Women in science: Marie Curie at 150 – Celebrating Women in STEM
New Book: Life Beyond Earth

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Full CV

Full Curriculum Vitae

 

Dr HDR Athena Coustenis
Observatoire de Meudon 5, place Jules Janssen 92195 Meudon Cedex France

Professional status

Athena Coustenis is Director of Research 1st class with the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France, working at Paris Observatory in Meudon.
Affiliation: Paris Observatory, PSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Université, U. Paris-Diderot
Her specialty is Planetology (exploration and study of the Solar System from ground-based and space observations).
She is currently the Chair of the European Science Foundation Space Science Committee (ESF-ESSC).

Education/degrees
  • 1986: Master in Astrophysics and Space techniques, Univ. Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris 6
  • 1987: Master in English Literature, Univ. Sorbonne-Nouvelle, Paris 3
  • 1989: PhD in Astrophysics and Space techniques, thesis, Univ. Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris 7
  • 1996: Habilitation to Direct Research (HDR), Univ. Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris 7
  • Languages spoken:
    Greek (maternal), French (native level), English (Proficiency), Good command of Italian
Professional History
  • Since Oct. 2013: Director of research, 1st class, CNRS, at LESIA, Paris-Meudon Observatory
  • Oct. 2008-Oct. 2013 : Director of research, 2nd class, CNRS, at LESIA, Paris-Meudon Observatory
  • 1991-2008: Chargée de recherche (Senior researcher) at Paris-Meudon Observatory
  • 1989-1991: Post-Doc at Paris 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 the outer solar system bodies, in particular 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. 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 or associated with mainly four of the instruments (CIRS, HASI, DISR, VIMS) aboard the Cassini-Huygens space mission to Saturn and Titan, in which she was involved from the beginning of the definition phase.

She analyses and interprets the spectro-imaging data recovered since 2004 using radiative transfer codes and other analysis tools. She has contributed in or led several other proposals, studies and development phases for space missions to the outer solar system and the exoplanets. Her expertise in space missions has allowed her to Chair or to participate in several advisory groups within ESA and NASA and other European Institutions.

Contribution to space-related projects
  • JUICE: Since 2009, she was involved in the JUICE mission as European Science co-Lead and then as member of the Science Working Team and Co-I of the JANUS camera. The mission will study essentially Ganymede and the Jupiter system, and is currently planned for launch by ESA as the Cosmic Vision programme L1 in 2022. sci.esa.int/juice/
  • ARIEL : member of the Science Definition Team and the Consortium : ariel-spacemission.eu Selected as ESA’s Cosmic Vision M4 mission to fly in 2028.
  • TSSM : In 2007 and 2008 she was the Lead European Scientist of the Titan/Saturn System Mission (TSSM) studied jointly by ESA and NASA. More than 150 scientists involved. The mission was not selected for implementation.
  • ANR CH4 at Titan project (2009-2012): Lead coordinator of the project involving 4 French laboratories and international partners working on a database for methane in the near-IR and planetary applications
  • Deputy coordinator of H2020 RI EUROPLANET, Europe's leading forum for the Planetary Sciences (www.europlanet-2020-ri.eu), Budget of about 10 M Euros for 2015-2019.
  • ANR high temperature molecular database for exoplanetary studies (2016-2020): Lead coordinator of the project involving 5 French laboratories
Current research management and functions
  • President of the European Science Foundation Space Sciences Committee (ESF/ESSC) since Nov. 2014 (www.essc.esf.org)
  • Member of the Space Sciences Advisory Committee (SSAC) of ESA since 2010 (as SSEWG Chair until 2013 and then as ESSC Chair).
  • Member ex-officio of the Human Exploration and Science Advisory Committee (HESAC) of ESA since 2010 (as SSEWG Chair until 2013 and then as ESSC Chair).
  • Member ex-officio of the Advisory Committee for Earth Observations (ACEO) of ESA since 2018.
  • Member ex-officio of the High-level Science Policy Advisory Committee (HISPAC) of ESA (2015-2017).
  • Member ex-officio of the Space Science Board (SSB) of the US National Academies of Science since 2015.
  • Member ex-officio of the COSPAR European Academies Science Advisory Council since 2015.
  • Member of the Comité d'Evaluation sur la Recherche et l'Exploration Spatiales (CERES) of CNES since 2010.
  • Member of the Space Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB) since 2016.
  • Member of the Outer Solar System Task Group (OSSTG) of the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) of IAU : https://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Page/Members
  • Member of the Working Group on Global Coordination of Ground and Space Astrophysics (WGGCGSA) of the IAU Executive Committee
  • Member of the Intl Astronomical Union (IAU) Executive committee of Commission F
  • Deputy coordinator of the Horizon 2020 RI EUROPLANET: www.europlanet-2020-ri.eu
  • Member Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA):
    iaaweb.org/content/view/714/940/
    • Member of the Board of Trustees of IAA
    • Member of the IAA Scientific Activities Committee (SAC)
    • Member of the IAA Publications & Communication Committee meeting
  • Member Academician of the Royal Academy of Belgium
  • Vice-Chair of the IUGG Union Commission on Planetary Sciences (UCPS):
    202.127.29.4/geodesy/ucps/ec.html
  • Chair of the Honors and Awards committee of the IUGG.
  • Chair of the EGU Jean Dominique Cassini Medal committee and member of the Copernicus medal committee
  • Councilor of the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life (ISSOL)
  • Faculty in Post-Master courses at Paris University and Ecole Doctorale Ile de France.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of
    • Astronomy & Astrophys. Reviews of Springer
    • Astronomy Astrophysics Library of Springer
    • Philosphical Transactions A of the RAS
    • Acta Astronautica of IAA
    • Icarus of Elsevier
  • Head Guest Editor for special issues of Planetary and Space Sciences.
  • 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) and others.
Recent past research management and functions
  • President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences (IAMAS) of the IUGG, 2011-2015. Current member of the Bureau.
  • Member of the Science Council of Paris Observatory, 2011-2015.
  • Chair of ESA’s Solar System and Exploration Working Group (SSEWG), 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.
  • Member of the Executive committee of ISSI (International Space Sciences Institute), 2014-2017.
  • President of the International Commission for Planetary Atmospheres and Environment (ICPAE) of the IUGG, 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/Awards
  • 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.
  • May 2017: Honorary plaque from the Greek Union of Physicists.
Scientific production and Outreach activities

She has written more than 230 scientific papers (H=42), with about 130 in peer-reviewed journals. She has first-authored 3 books and several chapters of Encyclopedias, participated in many E/PO activities. She has delivered more than 600 science lectures (more than 150 invited). In Oct. 2011 Ranked 9th in the Thomson-Reuters decadal survey by citations number and 13th by citations per article among those concerning the “planetary exploration” theme: archive.sciencewatch.com/ana/st/planet/11octPlanetCous/

Selected extract of publications

For the full list of publications and communications see:
A. Coustenis, full list of publications
or download this PDF:

www.coustenisplanetologist.com/ACoustenis-Publications-Communications.pdf

  • 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 23, 893-946.
  • 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 (book), 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.
  • Solomonidou, A., Coustenis, A., et al., 2015. Temporal variations of Titan’s surface with Cassini/VIMS. Icarus 270, 85-99.
  • Coustenis, A., Jennings, D. E., Achterbergh, R. K., Bampasidis, G., Lavvas, P., Nixon, C. A., Teanby, N. A., Anderson, C. M., Flasar, F. M., 2015. Titan’s temporal evolution in stratospheric trace gases near the poles. Icarus 270, 409-420.
  • Coustenis, A., 2014. « Titan ». In Encyclopedia of the Solar System, Third Edition, T. Spohn, D. Breuer, & T. V. Johnson (Eds.), Elsevier (pp. 831–849), ISBN 9780124158450.
  • Coustenis, A., Raulin, F., 2015. “Titan Astrobiology”. Chapter in the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, 2nd edition, M. Gargaud, R. Amils, J. Cernicharo, H. J. Cleaves II, K. Kobayashi, D. Pinti, M. Viso (Eds), Springer, 2550 p., ISBN 978-3-662-44184-8.
  • Coustenis, A., 2015. “The Cassini-Huygens mission”. Chapter in the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, 2nd edition, M. Gargaud, R. Amils, J. Cernicharo, H. J. Cleaves II, K. Kobayashi, D. Pinti, M. Viso (Eds), Springer, 2550 p., ISBN 978-3-662-44184-8.
  • Coustenis, A., Jennings, D. E., Achterbergh, R. K., Bampasidis, G., Lavvas, P., Nixon, C. A., Teanby, N. A., Anderson, C. M., Flasar, F. M., 2016. Titan’s temporal evolution in stratospheric trace gases near the poles. Icarus 270, 409-420
  • A. Coustenis et al 2018 Seasonal Evolution of Titan's Stratosphere Near the Poles. ApJL 854 L30

Career

Beginnings

FROM A GREEK BEACH TO A TITAN LAKE SHORE

Or, how a Greek girl became a planetologist

I come from a country where people look up at the sky quite often, especially at nighttime. And from ages lost in time, they usually try to make sense of what they see. How Aristarchus invented the heliocentric solar system, how Eratosthenes proved the Earth was round and discovered the distance to the moon and how Anaximander had the Universe all structured out were my bedtime stories. And of course, I was very close to the sky myself. Not only because my name gave me rights to an Olympian abode, but also because in my family, except for my mother, we were all a little nuts about the sky: my father and brother are both in the Greek Air Force.

And I? I wanted to go higher, I wanted to be an astronaut. It wasn’t being a girl that stopped me, it never has. It was being diagnosed with severe myopia (short-sightedness) and realizing that I’d have to train in the challenging military way where the toughest part for me was getting up early in the morning… No way- I’m a night owl.

So, when I collided with books by Isaac Asimov (oh, the Foundation Series…) and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on TV, a new approach occurred to me (a girl has to adapt to situation changes). I could be an astronomer. I was inspired by Carl’s description of the Universe, I never missed an episode of Star Trek™ or ‘Lost in Space’ and – I was hooked. My family sort of tried to laugh me out of it. An uncle suggested that I should perhaps think of becoming an astrologer (much more money in that business). An aunt said she had a job for me in a bank (bright girl like you – you’ll catch yourself a husband in a jiffy!). I remained unmoved and unmovable. I was going away to do astronomy, the Greek Sun was not enough for me, I wanted to be where the action was and where space missions were being developed. My father finally cut me a deal: he’d let me go “do my space hobby” in France (not the US, no, no – too far away for a Greek girl of 18) if I promised to study (simultaneously) English Literature, the diploma that would be providing my real bread-and-butter some day. And (just to make doubly sure I didn’t stray far with all this free time on my hands (!?) , the deal stipulated that I had to pass all the exams in June (no second chances in September), go to Greece for three full summer months and return for the next academic year all clean, nice and rested, with my suitcase full of feta cheese and keftédes (meatballs).

So I did. I got two Masters degrees and started two Ph.D.’s with a lot of unconscious enthusiasm . I had about 250 pages of my thesis on English Horror Literature (big fan of Stephen King….) written before I finally had to quit and focus on Astronomy, much to my dismay but with relief. This came with my father’s blessings since the scholarship enabling me to continue my work had come from the French Ministry for my research at Paris Observatory in Meudon. He still encourages me to one day go back and finish my English thesis … and Stephen King still writes books, so it may happen one day…

EARLY CAREER

I did my PhD at Paris Observatory in Meudon, getting my first ‘taste’ of Titan from Voyager 1 infrared data working with colleagues who since then have become good friends. Once I got a glimpse of Titan, I was hooked, bewitched, inspired and haven’t left the Outer Solar System since then… Right after my Ph.D. defense in 1989, I was engaged in three instrument proposals, all of which managed to get aboard Cassini-Huygens: CIRS on the orbiter (I knew quite a lot by then about infrared Titan spectra analysis of Titan) and HASI and DISR on the probe. I was the luckiest girl in world! The teams were fantastic, we threw ourselves into the definition of the instruments, we made observing plans and created models to be tested against the ground truth one day.

By then, the French National Center for Scientific Research had offered me a permanent position and France had become my home. I am grateful to both my mother (Greece) and host (France) countries and feel quite European. While waiting for the mission to arrive safely at its destination, of course I had to occupy myself. I went to large telescopes all over the world and observed Titan with spectra and images. I used the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO). I attacked the problem of understanding Titan from all possible perspectives: models and observations, atmospheric chemistry and surface geology, inside and out and using anything I could get my hands on…

And then one day (very early in the morning of October 1997), we watched, during one of my most memorable career and personal moments, the launch of Cassini-Huygens from Cape Canaveral… just us and the alligators waiting for their breakfast… I cried seeing the launch, I cried of joy and anticipation and thankfulness and pride to be part of this wonderful crowd of people: All the members of the teams, the ESA and NASA representatives who had us on our way to a big new adventure.

And while I was waiting for Cassini to arrive at destination, I also managed to ‘“settle down’” as my mother had long hoped for, got married to Franck, with extraordinary computer skills in his repertoire, and brought into this world my daughter, Callista (“the most beautiful” in Greek), a little star brightest than any in the sky.… Neither one of them cares very much about astronomy, but our association has worked wonders in making me happy and productive in both my personal and professional lives. It takes some organizing efforts for me to attend meetings and also be present for school and dancing shows while following all the mission’s landmarks, but it was and still is worth it.


THE JOB OF BEING AN ASTRONOMER

How does one become an astronomer?

What is it like in every day life once you’ve finished your studies and managed to get a job as a researcher in this field? I recently contributed to a short movie by O. Borderie, @tmosphere en images Production.

The film “Astronomy and Space careers” (in English and in French) shows some of us who work in the field describing our “job” as an astronomer, what we do, why we became astronomers and giving some hopefully helpful hints about how to become an astronomer. Researchers, engineers and other people involved in the job of astronomy talk about their work from the inside to allow others to grasp what are the requirements in terms of studies, responsibilities, autonomy and initiatives, functional relations, specificities, environment, etc. You can also get an idea of the evolution of this craft in the future. Les métiers de l’astronomie et de l’espace by atmosphereenimages

It was fun talking about our job and how it affects our lives. We, astronomers, come from different directions, diverse backgrounds, men and women from all over the world and yet we are all linked by our passion for astronomy and a strong motivation to add a small contribution to our understanding of the Universe.

I enjoyed participating in this film, hope you enjoy it too!

 

ASTROBIOLOGIST

What is an astrobiologist?

I came to Astrobiology quite early in my research. How could I miss the implications ‘Titan: the frozen Earth’, ‘organic chemistry closest to our planet’, the ‘methane cycle mimicking the water cycle on Earth’, etc. Of course, ancient Greek philosophers (them again !) had already thought of a universe consisting of “many worlds”. Thales, from Militos, and his students in the 7th century BCE argued for a Universe full of other planets, teaming with extraterrestrial life. They also proposed the idea with which we’re all familiar today (through Drake’s equation, among other and Carl Sagan’s musings, and the contributions of many other scientists’ arguments), i.e. that a Universe so full of stars must also have a large number of populated worlds. This proposal, was already defended by Epicurus and other Greek atomists who countered the geocentric models brought forward later on by Aristotle. The latter concept stuck, though, and hindered scientific progress in this domain for quite a long period of time. In 1862, the French scientist Camille Flammarion , published ‘La pluralité des mondes habités’ (‘on the plurality of inhabited worlds’), in which the conditions of habitability and the presence of life on such habitable planets of our Solar System is discussed. The public loved the book, but Urbain Le Verrier, then Director of the Paris Observatory , and many of his colleagues completely rejected Flammarion’s arguments, as did many of his colleagues. Flammarion was consequently fired from the Observatory… I have had better luck so far…

I’m allowed to be fascinated by the possibility that we could find information on how human beings arose and/or discover life forms elsewhere. Mars, Venus, Titan, Enceladus, Europa and other such places have been our favorite targets for exploring habitats in the Solar System and pushing current models of the origin and evolution of life to their limits, and beyond. Subsurface liquid water oceans, organic constituents swimming in exposed hydrocarbon lakes, water-laden geysers, the possibility of water hiding beneath the CO2 ice fields of Mars: All these new opportunities for exploration in the field of Astrobiology make my every day life and research work exciting and busy. Learning about and contributing to future missions to the Saturnian and Jovian systems are constant sources of joy and reward. understanding of the Universe.

And I love sharing these new findings in Astronomy with the public, always supportive and sometimes as passionate as we are… [an excerpt of this text was published in the “Pioneers in Astrobiology” section of the Astrobiology Magazine in February 2012]

 

SHORT BIO

Athena Coustenis was born in Athens, Greece and grew up in a garden suburb by the Saronic Bay before moving to France where she earned two Masters degrees and one PhD in Astronomy and Space Techniques (she started another PhD in English Literature and hopes to finish it one day…) thanks to a scholarship provided by the French University which furthermore allowed her to complete a Post-Doc at Paris Observatory and apply for a position with the Centre National des Recherches Scientifiques (CNRS).

Coustenis then got a permanent CNRS Researcher position at the Paris-Meudon Observatory, in the Space Lab for Space Studies and instrumentation in Astrophysics (LESIA). Paris-Meudon Observatory is the most important scientific observatory in France. The facilities at Meudon include a 36-metre tall concrete tower containing a sophisticated spectrograph for examination of the Sun. Nearby, astronomers have converted the beautiful and luxurious Chateau de Meudon into an observatory and some have even lodged there!

Meudon was named by the Gauls, who called it Mol-Dum (sand dune). It is now a suburb on the south western edge of Paris, nestled in the hills and valleys of the river Seine half way between Paris and Versailles.

Coustenis is heavily involved in the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan, and has used a variety of large telescopes to conduct planetary investigations on outer planet systems and exoplanets. She has written more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and has given more than 300 communications in scientific conventions and public events. She has first-authored three books.

She is leading or contributing to several advisory groups for the European Space Agency and for NASA. Among other, she is President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences and of the Planetary Sciences Division of the European Geosciences union, as well as Secretary General of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Societ.

She has been awarded many NASA and ESA achievement awards and the 2012 Prix pour la réussite au Féminin by the France Euro Méditerranée Association (the ceremony took place at the French Senate on 29 November 2012, see picture attached).

Athena is married to Franck Darin and has a daughter, Callista (“the most beautiful” in Greek, named after the beautiful mythological nymph and a large moon in the solar system). She enjoys visiting Greece and her family there as often as possible.

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