Lisa Kaltenegger

Associate Professor, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute


Lisa Kaltenegger is the Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell and Associate Professor in Astronomy. Her research focuses on exploring new worlds orbiting other stars, especially rocky planets and super-Earths and their atmospheres in the habitable zone. She is a world-leading expert in modeling potential habitable worlds and their detectable spectral fingerprint, which can be detected with the next generation of telescopes. Lisa Kaltenegger serves among others on the National Science Foundation's Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC), and on NASA senior review of operating missions. She is a Science Team Member of NASA's TESS Mission as well as the NIRISS instrument on JWST

Lisa Kaltenegger was named one of America’s Young Innovators by Smithsonian Magazine, an Innovator to Watch by TIME Magazine and was selected as one of the European Commission’s Role Models for Women in Science and Research. Among her international awards are the Invited Discourse lecture at the IAU General Assembly in Hawaii, the Heinz Meier Leibnitz Prize for Physics of Germany, the Doppler Prize for Innovation in Science of Austria, and the Barry-Jones Inauguration Award of the Royal Astrobiology Society and Open University in Britain. Her review 2017 on How to Characterize Habitable Worlds and Signs of Life was selected by Annual Reviews as part a collection celebrating pioneering women scientists.

She is part of the IMAX 3D movie "The Search for Life in Space" and gives public lectures e.g. at Aspen Ideas Festival, TED Youth, World Science Festival and the Kavli Foundation lecture at the Adler Planetarium which was live-streamed to 6 continents. Her first book "Are we alone in the universe?" has been published in German and Italian. Asteroid Kaltenegger7734 is named after her.

Research Focus

A decade of exoplanet search has led to surprising discoveries, from giant planets close to their star, to planets orbiting two stars, all the way to the first extremely hot, rocky worlds with potentially permanent lava on their surfaces due to the star’s proximity. Observation techniques have now reached the sensitivity to explore the chemical composition of the atmospheres as well as physical structure of some detected planets and find planets of less than 10 Earth masses (so called Super-Earths), among them some that may potentially be habitable.

The first confirmed transiting planets and several non-transiting planets orbit in the Habitable Zone of their host star. Observing mass and radius alone can not break the degeneracy of a planet’s nature due to the effect of an extended atmosphere that can also block the stellar light and increase the observed planetary radius significantly. Even if a unique solution would exist, planets with similar density, like Earth and Venus, present very different planetary environments in terms of habitable conditions. Therefore the question refocuses on atmospheric features to characterize a planetary environment. Lisa Kaltenegger’s work focuses on observational features of rocky planets in the HZ of their stars that can be used to examine if our concept of habitability is correct and how we can identify the first habitable new worlds in the sky.


SELECTED PEER-REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS (google scholar with links to all papers here)          

1.    R.M Ramirez, L Kaltenegger 2018, A Methane Extension to the Classical Habitable Zone, The Astrophysical Journal 858 (2), 72
2.    S Rugheimer, L Kaltenegger, 2018, Spectra of Earth-like Planets Through Geological Evolution Around FGKM Stars, The Astrophysical Journal 854 (1), 19
3.    Kaltenegger, L., How to characterize a Habitable Planet, Astronomy & Astrophysics Annual Review (invited), Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 55, 433-485, 2017
4.    OMalley-James & Kaltenegger L, Surface environment for planets in the Habitable Zone of Trappist-1, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2017
5.    Ramirez,  R.M., Kaltenegger, L., 2017. A volcanic hydrogen habitable zone. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 837, 1
6.    Ramirez, R M., Kaltenegger, L., The Habitable Zones of Post-main-sequence Stars, Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), 823, 6, 2016
7.    Rugheimer, S., Kaltenegger, L., Segura, A., Linsky, J., Mohanty, S., Effect of UV Radiation on the Spectral Fingerprints of Earth-like Planets Orbiting M Stars, Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), 809, 1, 16 pp., 2015
8.    Rugheimer, S., Segura, A., Kaltenegger, L., Sasselov, D., UV Surface Environment of Earth-like Planets Orbiting FGKM Stars Through Geological Evolution, ApJ, 806, 1, 137, 2015
9.    Hegde S., Paulino-Lima, I., Kent, R., Kaltenegger, L., Rothschild, L., Surface biosignatures of exo-Earths: Remote detection of extraterrestrial life, PNAS, 112, 13, 2015
10.    Bétrémieux Y., Kaltenegger, L., Refraction in planetary atmospheres: improved analytical expressions and comparison with a new ray-tracing algorithm, MNRAS, 451, 2, 2015
11.    Miguel Y., Kaltenegger L., Linsky, J.L., Rugheimer, S., The effect of Lyman alpha radiation on mini-Neptune atmospheres around M stars: application to GJ 436b, MNRAS, 446, 1, 2015
12.    Ramirez, R.M., Kaltenegger, L., The Habitable Zones of Pre-main-sequence Stars, ApJL, 797, 2, article id. L25, 8, 2014
13.    Betremeux, Y., Kaltenegger, L., Impact of atmospheric refraction: How deeply can we probe exo-Earth's atmospheres during primary eclipse observations?, ApJ, 791, 1, 7, 12, 2014
14.    Miguel, Y., Kaltenegger, L., Exploring Atmospheres of Hot Mini-Neptunes and Extrasolar Giant Planets Orbiting Different Stars with Application to HD 97658b, WASP-12b, CoRoT-2b, XO-1b, and HD 189733b, ApJ, 780, 2, 166, 13, 2014
15.    Kaltenegger, L., Haghighipour N., Habitability of Binary Systems I: S-type binaries, ApJ, 777, 2, 165, 2013
16.    Haghighipour N, Kaltenegger, L., Habitability of Binary Systems II: P-type binaries, ApJ, 777, 2, 166, 2013
17.    Kaltenegger, L., Sasselov D., Rugheimer S., Water Planets in the Habitable Zone: Atmospheric Chemistry, Observable Features, and the case of Kepler-62e and -62f, ApJL, 775, 2, L47, 5, 2013
18.    Betremeux, Y., Kaltenegger, L., The Transiting Earth from UV to VIS, ApJL, 772, L31, 2013
19.    Kurakawa, H., Kaltenegger, L., Atmospheric mass-loss and evolution of short-period exoplanets: the examples of CoRoR 7b and Kepler-10b, MNRS, 433, 4, pp. 323-3245, 2013
20.    Rugheimer, S., Kaltenegger, L., et al., Spectral fingerprints of an Earth around FGK stars, Astrobiology, 13(3): 251-269, 2013
21.    Hegde, S., Kaltenegger L., Colours of extreme worlds, Astrobiology 13(1):47-56, 2013
22.    Kaltenegger L., Miguel, Y., Rugheimer, S., Rocky Exoplanet Characterization and Atmospheres, International Journal of Astrobiology, 11, pp. 297-307, 2012
23.    Zsom, A., Kaltenegger, L., C. Goldblatt, A 1D microphysical cloud model for Earth, and Earth-like exoplanets, Icarus, 221, 2, pp. 603-616, 2012
24.    Miguel, Y., Kaltenegger, L., Fegley, B., Jr., Schaefer, L., Compositions of Hot Super-Earth Atmospheres: Exploring Kepler Candidates, ApJL, 742, 2, article id. L19, 2011
25.    Kaltenegger L., Sasselov, D., Exploring the Habitable Zone for Kepler, ApJL, 736, 2, L25, 2011
26.    Kaltenegger L., Segura, A., Mohanty, S., Model Spectra of the First Potentially Habitable Super-Earth—Gl581d, ApJ, 733, 1, article id. 35, 2011
27.    Kaltenegger L., Henning, W., Sasselov, D., Detecting Volcanism on Extrasolar Planets, ApJ, 140, 5, pp. 1370-1380, 2010
28.    Kaltenegger, L., Characterizing Habitable Exo-Moons, ApJL, 711, pp. L1-L6, 2010
29.    Kaltenegger, L., Sasselov, D., Detecting Planetary Geochemical Cycles on Exoplanets: Atmospheric Signatures and the Case of SO2, ApJ, 708, 2, pp. 1162-1167, 2010
30.    Kaltenegger L., Selsis F., et al., Characterization of Terrestrial Exoplanets and Detection of Biomarkers, Astrobiology, 10, 1, pp. 89-102, 2010
31.    Kaltenegger L., Eiroa C., Ribas I., et al., Stellar Aspects of Habitability: Characterizing Target Stars for Terrestrial Planet Finding Missions, Astrobiology, 10, 1, pp. 103-112, 2010
32.    Kaltenegger, L., Eiroa, C., Fridlund, M., Target star catalogue for Darwin Nearby Stellar sample for a search for terrestrial planets, Astrophysics and Space Science, 326, 2, pp.233-247, 2010
33.    Cockell, C., Kaltenegger, L., Raven J., Cryptic photosynthesis  – extrasolar planetary oxygen without a surface biological signature, Astrobiology, 9, 7, pp. 623-636, 2009.
34.    Kaltenegger, L., Traub, W., Transits of Earth-Like Planets, ApJ, 698, 1, pp. 519-527, 2009.

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