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Professor John Zarnecki

John Zarnecki at ISSI

Profile summary

  • Visiting Informal Academic
  • Emeritus Professor
  • Faculty of Science
  • Department of Physical Sciences
  • john.zarnecki

Professional biography

CV - Professor Jan Charles Zarnecki

Work Address:   Planetary & Space Sciences Research Institute

                            The Open University

                            Walton Hall

                            Milton Keynes

                            MK7 6AA

                            Tel: 01908-659599

                            Fax: 01908-858022


Date of Birth:                        6 November 1949

Academic Qualifications:    Open Exhibition in Engineering, Queens' College Cambridge, 1968

                                               BA in Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge, 1971

                                               MA, University of Cambridge, 1975

                                               Ph.D. in Physics and Astronomy (X-Ray Studies of the Puppis-A Supernova           Remnant), University College London, 1977

Professional Affiliations:     Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS)

                                               Fellow of the Institute of Physics (IOP)

                                               Chartered Physicist (CPhys)

                                               Member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)

Professional Appointments (selected):

                                               UK Space Leadership Council (2010- ) (A Ministerial appointment)

                                               Chair of UK Space Agency Science Policy Advisory Committee (2010-)

                                               Scientific Advisor to UK Delegation to European Space Agency’s Science Policy Committee (2010-)

                                               Vice-President, Royal Astronomical Society (2009-2011)

                                               Scientific Advisor to UK Parliamentary Space Committee (2010-

                                               Chair of COSPAR Panel on Space Exploration (PEX) (2007-2010)

                                               UK Space Exploration Working Group, British National Space Centre (2007)

                                               PPARC/STFC Aurora Advisory Committee (2006-2007)

                                               PPARC Council (2005-2007)

                                               PPARC Audit Committee (2005-2007)

                                               ESA/NASA Jupiter System Working Group (2005-2007)

                                               PPARC Science & Society Advisory Group (2003-present)

Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (1995-1998)

                                               European Science Foundation's European Space Science Committee (1997-2000)

                                               Member of the European Space Agency Solar System Working Group (1995-1998)

                                               PPARC Next Generation Space Telescope Advisory Group

Career History


2013-present:Emeritus Professor, Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University


2010-present:Visiting Professor, Beihang University, Beijing, China


2000-2013:Professor of Space Science (previously Reader in Space & Planetary Sciences), Planetary & Space Sciences Research Institute and Director of CEPSAR (Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space & Astronomical Research), The Open University


1999-2000:Senior Visiting Scientist, Solar System Division, European Space Research & Technology Centre, European Space Agency, Noordwijk, The Netherlands


1996-2000:Reader in Space Sciences, Unit for Space Sciences, Physics Laboratory, University of Kent


1987 – 1996: Senior Lecturer, Unit for Space Sciences, Physics Laboratory, University of Kent


1985-1987:Lecturer, Unit for Space Sciences, Physics Laboratory, University of Kent


1981-1985:Senior Experimental Officer, Unit for Space Sciences (Project Manager for UKC Experiment on Giotto Comet Halley spacecraft) Electronics Laboratories, subsequently Physics Laboratory, University of Kent


1979-1981:Senior Systems Engineer, Dynamics Group (Technical responsibility for low light level TV Camera for the Faint Object Camera on the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope Project), British Aerospace, Filton, Bristol


1974-1979:Research Assistant, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College, London. X-ray astronomy. Development of instrumentation and data analysis & interpretation


1971-1974:Research Student, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College, London (activities as above)


Present and Recent Research-Related Activities

Major involvement in, latterly in leadership positions, in some of the major planetary exploration missions of recent decades, delivering enormous strides in our understanding of the environments of these bodies (planets, satellites and minor bodies), including the Giotto mission to comet Halley and Cassini-Huygens to Saturn & Titan.  Earlier major instrument development for the Hubble Space Telescope and high energy astrophysics missions.  Also laboratory studies of hypervelocity processes.  Main projects include:

Cassini/Huygens:Principal Investigator for the Surface Science Package (SSP) and Co-I for the Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI) for the Huygens probe/lander on the Cassini mission to Saturn and Titan. Continuing data analysis and interpretation.

ExoMars:Selected by ESA to provide UVIS (Ultraviolet & Visible spectrometer) as PI (Principal Investigator) and AEP (Advanced Environmental Package) as co-PI; the former to characterise for the first time the UV environment on the Martian surface; the AEP to measure the meteorological environment with, for the first time, an automatic high resolution mode to characterise dust devils.

Ptolemy-Rosetta Lander: Deputy PI for PTOLEMY, an instrument designed at the OU to measure isotopic ratios on the surface of comet Churyumov/Gerasimenko as part of ESA's Rosetta mission

Environmental Sensors Suite-Beagle 2: Co-Principal Investigator for the Environmental Sensors Suite on the Beagle 2 Mars lander to make measurements of meteorological, radiation and physical properties on the surface of Mars.

Future Missions:Major involvement with (and leadership in) developing concepts, technology and instruments for missions to Europa, Titan, Enceladus and asteroid sample return.

Research Leadership: Immediate pastDirector of the Open University’s CEPSAR(Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space & Astronomical Research) comprising more than 150 research and research-related staff covering research from the interior of the Earth to cosmological scales.

Secondment (30% for 1 year) to ESA Exploration Directorate for long-term scientific planning of space exploration activities in the inner Solar System.


Named Lectures (selected):


Grubb Parsons Lecture, University of Durham, 2007

David Elder Lecture, University of Strathclyde, 2007

Open University Broadband Lecture, 2007

Flamstead Lecture, Derby University, 2006

InternationalAcademyof Astronautics Team Achievement Award Lecture, 2006


Awards (selected):


NASA Group Achievement Award for the Huygens Surface Science Package (2007)

The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) 2006 Laurels for Team Achievement (to the Cassini-Huygens team)

Asteroid 17920 named Zarnecki (IAU, 2006) in recognition of “..spacecraft instrumentation to study the surfaces and atmospheres of planets, satellites and small bodies”

Arthur C Clarke Award for Individual Contribution to UK Space Research (2005)

THES Award for Research Project of the Year, Runner-up (2005)

ESA Individual Awards for contributions to Huygens, Rosetta and ExoMars (2005-2006)



Other External Activities (selected):


Academic Consultant for and main subject of BBC/OU Documentary, “Destination Titan”

Lecture tours for British Council in Portugal, Poland, Thailand, Estonia & Spain.

Invited Lectures at major science festivals (e.g. Cheltenham & Edinburgh)

Extensive media work related to space research and astronomy, including BBC TV “Sky at Night”, BBC Radio 4 “In Our Times” and “Material World”, BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival, etc

Member of the Board of Milton Keynes Gallery (one of the UK’s leading contemporary art galleries outside London) (2003-2008)

Member of Eurotunnel Plc Shareholders Committee (2002-2006)



Research interests

See Profile above

See Profile above

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)CentreFaculty of Science