Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research

Jonathan I. Lunine

David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences
Director, Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science
Jonathan I.  Lunine
Specialty Areas

Planetary science, Theoretical Astrophysics, Astrobiology

Research Projects

Planetary system formation, evolution of volatile-rich worlds


Lunine is interested in how planets form and evolve, what processes maintain and establish habitability, and what kinds of exotic environments (methane lakes, etc.) might host a kind of chemistry sophisticated enough to be called "life".  He pursues these interests through theoretical modeling and participation in spacecraft missions.  He works with the radar and other instruments on Cassini, is co-investigator on the Juno mission launched in 2011 to Jupiter and on the near-infrared spectrometer under development for the Europa Multiple Flyby mission.  He is on the science team for the James Webb Space Telescope, focusing on characterization of extrasolar planets and Kuiper Belt objects.  Lunine is currently PI for a proposed mission to look for signs of life in Saturn's moon Enceladus, and has contributed to concept studies for a wide range of planetary and exoplanetary missions. Lunine is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has participated in or chaired a number of advisory and strategic planning committees for the Academy and for NASA.

Recent Publications
  • LeGall, A., Malaska, M.J., Lorenz, R.D., Janssen, M.A., Tokano, T., Hayes, A.G., Mastrogiuseppe, M., Lunine, J.I., Veyssier, G., Encrenaz, P., Karatekin, O. 2016. Composition, seasonal change, and bathymetry of Ligeia Mare, Titan, derived from its microwave thermal emission. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 121, doi:10.1002/2015JE004920
  • Mousis, O., Lunine, J.I., Luspay-Kutt, A., Guillot, T., Marty, B., Ali-Dib, M., Wurz, P., Altwegg, K., Bieler, A., Hassig, M., Rubin, M., Vernazza, P., and Waite, J.H. 2016. A protosolar nebula origin for the ices agglomerated by comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Astrophys. J. Letters 819, L33 (5pp).
  • Mousis, O., Lunine, J.I., Hayes, A.G., and Hofgartner, J.D. 2016. The fate of ethane in Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes and seas. Icarus 270, 37-40
  • Hofgartner, J.D., Hayes, A.G., Lunine, J.I., Zebker, H. Lorenz, R.D., Malaska, M.J., Mastrogiuseppe, M., Notarnicola, C. and Soderblom, J.M. 2016. Titan’s “Magic Islands”. Transient features in a hydrocarbon sea. Icarus 271, 338-349 
  • Norwood, J., Hammel, H., Milam, S., Stansberry, J., Lunine, J., Chanover, N., Hintes, D., Sonneborn, G. Tiscareno, M., Brown, M., and Ferruit, P. 2016. Solar system observations with James Webb Space Telescope. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacific 128:025004 (34 pp).

New: See the interviews on Enceladus Life Finder here

See my February 2016 Harvard CfA lecture on searching for life in the ocean worlds of the outer solar system.

Check out the Cornell Space and Planetary Sciences page!