Prof Leigh Fletcher

Professor of Planetary Science

School/Department: Physics & Astronomy, School of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 3585



I am a planetary scientist specialising in exploring the atmospheres of our Solar System’s giant planets via robotic spacecraft missions, space telescopes, and ground-based astronomical facilities.  I have been the Director of Research and Enterprise for the School of Physics and Astronomy since 2023.

Before arriving at Leicester in 2015 I earned a Natural Science degree from Cambridge, a PhD in Planetary Physics from Oxford, and previously worked as a NASA fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and as a Research Fellow at Oxford. I held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF) between 2013 and 2020 and was the recipient of the 2016 Harold C. Urey prize for outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist, awarded by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society.

I am a team member for the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Juno, JUICE, and Europa Clipper missions to Jupiter, and a passionate advocate for future exploration of the distant Ice Giants. I lead a programme of giant planet atmospheres observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Today I manage a planetary atmospheres team at the University of Leicester funded by the Royal Society, STFC, and the European Research Council.


My research explores the atmospheres and climate of the giant planets, to understand how the planets formed, and how meteorology, dynamics, chemistry and cloud formation conspire to produce the patterns we observe on each world.  My research team is funded by grants from the Royal Society, the UKRI Science and Technology Facilities Council, and via a European Research Council Consolidator Grant.  

I specialise in spectroscopic inversion to derive atmospheric parameters from remote sensing data (e.g., from ground-based astronomy and orbiting spacecraft), but my research also touches upon the application of Solar System experience to the characterisation of exoplanets and brown dwarfs, and the use of remote sensing to study the composition and geology of planetary satellites.  


My full list of journal publications can be found here, or via my ORCID ID.

Specific examples include:


  • Giant Planet atmospheric dynamics, chemistry, and origins.
  • Remote sensing and spectroscopic inversion for planetary atmospheres.
  • Reflectance spectroscopy of icy moons.


  • Space Plasmas and Planetary Atmospheres
  • Physics Challenge
  • Advanced Literature Review
  • Year 3 and 4 Research Projects

Press and media

  • Planetary exploration.
  • Giant Planet atmospheres and climate.
  • Icy Moons and habitability.
  • Space telescopes and ground-based observatories.
  • Public engagement with STEM subjects.
  • Amateur observations of planetary objects.


  • Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Space Achievement in Academic Research: UK Cassini-Huygens Team - British Interplanetary Society (2018)
  • Harold C. Urey prize for outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist, awarded by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (2016)
  • Winton Capital Postdoctoral Award for promising early-career development in geoscience - Royal Astronomical Society (2010)
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for Cassini/CIRS (2009)
  • Keith Runcorn Thesis Prize from the Royal Astronomical Society (2008)

Media coverage

For full details of my media activities spanning TV, radio, print, and social media please visit my website.  Alternatively, you can follow my research via Twitter or LinkedIn.

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