Dr Leigh Fletcher

Senior Research Fellow in Planetary ScienceFletcher 2015

Contact details

Tel: 0116 252 3585

Email: leigh.fletcher@le.ac.uk

Office: Room S7, Physics and Astronomy Building


Personal details

  • MSci (Hons)
  • MA (Cantab)
  • DPhil (Oxford)

I'm a Royal Society Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow specialising in remote sensing of the extreme environments found within giant planet systems, both in our solar system and around other stars. I'm an expert in the exploration of planetary atmospheres and climate using a synthesis of data from ground-based observatories, space telescopes and visiting spacecraft.

A co-investigator on the Cassini mission to Saturn and an Interdisciplinary Scientist on ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, I'm also actively involved in ground-based planetary astronomy using world-class facilities in Hawaii and Chile, and am passionate about using planetary science to engage and enthuse the next generation of European scientists.

I studied Natural Science at Emmanuel College Cambridge (2000-2004) before moving to Oxford's Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics department for a PhD in planetary science (2004-2007). Since then I've worked as a NASA fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and as a Research Fellow in Oxford. I was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF) in 2012 and was appointed as a Senior Research Fellow in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics (RSPP) group at the University of Leicester in 2015.



  • Royal Astronomical Society's Keith Runcorn prize for 'Best UK Thesis', 2007
  • Royal Astronomical Society's Winton Capital Award “for exceptionally promising early career development” in Geophysics, 2011
  • Urey Prize of the Division for Planetary Sciences, 2016


  • Atmospheric Physics
  • Exoplanets
  • Fluid Flows and Complexity
  • Astrophysics

Office hours

9am - 5pm


I have written more than 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals covering a wide range of open questions in planetary science. View my complete list of publications.


Planetary science encompasses a diverse range of disciplines, including meteorology, dynamics, cloud microphysics, chemistry, planetary formation, geophysics and even astrobiology.  My research focusses on the exploration of giant planet systems, and a sample of my research topics is included below:

  • Characterising the circulation and chemistry of giant planet atmospheres via Infrared remote sensing of atmospheric temperatures, clouds and gaseous composition
  • Spectral inversion (retrievals) techniques to derive atmospheric parameters from imaging and spectroscopy
  • Ground-based planetary observations of giant planet atmospheres
  • Diversity of giant extrasolar planets via direct imaging and exoplanet transit spectroscopy
  • Reflectance spectroscopy of the Galilean satellites
  • Design and implementation of future missions to the outer solar system (particularly ESA's JUICE mission and future missions to the ice giants)

Research highlights include:

  • Discovery of polar cyclones at both poles of Saturn and the first thermal images of its bizarre hexagon
  • Discovery of a huge stratospheric vortex (the beacon) spawned by Saturn's springtime storm
  • Characterisation of the aftermath of a gigantic asteroidal impactor on Jupiter in 2009
  • Application of optimal estimation retrieval architecture to exoplanetary spectra
  • Decade-long seasonal characterisation of Saturn's atmosphere from Cassini
  • First thermal infrared study of global upheavals in the belt/zone structure on Jupiter

Over the years I've been fortunate to use a wide range of world-class facilities for my research, including:

  • Spacecraft: C assini, Galileo, Voyager
  • Space telescopes: Spitzer, Herschel, Hubble & ISO
  • Ground-based observatories: NASA/IRTF, ESO/VLT, Subaru, Gemini, Keck, UKIRT, SOFIA

Science communication work

  • Regular presentations (around once a month) to schools, astronomy societies and general public, particularly during National Science and Engineering Week and in association with BBC Stargazing Live
  • Oxford Physics Access and Outreach Committee member
  • Science and Engineering Ambassador, Oxford Trust (2005-2015)
  • Fellow of RCUK Researchers in Residence Scheme (2005-2007)
  • Prestigious lectures: Astronomy Ireland (2015), Cunard Guest Astronomer (Queen Mary 2); Society for Popular Astronomy (2012), British Astronomical Society Pro-Amateur Meeting (Norwich, UK, 2011)


It has been my pleasure to supervise the following graduate students through their PhD studies:

  • Dr. Jaemin Lee (2010-2013) Retrievals of Exoplanetary Hot Jupiters
  • Rohini Giles (2013-Present) Jupiter's Deep Dynamics from the 5 µm Window


  • Television: Six appearances on BBC Sky at Night, approximate 1 million viewers per show (2010-2014)
  • Radio: BBC Oxford, BBC Material World, Radio Cardiff, Naked Scientists, Science Boffins, Oxford Jack FM, Radio Cardiff, USA National Public Radio (NPR)

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