Prof. Björn Benneke

Björn Benneke is an Associate Professor and the Head of the Astronomy Group within the Department of Physics at Université de Montréal. He serves as a member of the STScI JWST 20-Year Strategic Initiative Team and the Executive Board of the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx). Benneke is known for his leadership in probing the compositional diversity and formation histories of planets outside the solar system through atmospheric modeling and observation. He is currently leading one of the largest JWST surveys for exoplanets and has also been the PI of multiple of the largest multi-institutional Hubble Space Telescope programs to study small exoplanets. Benneke has co-authored over 120 peer-review publications including 15 publications in Nature, 3 in Nature Astronomy, and 15 in ApJ Letters. Together, his publications have received over 9000 citations, with over 6600 of these citations within the past 5 years. His pioneering work during his PhD research introduced the now widely used technique of Bayesian atmospheric retrieval to interpret exoplanet spectra, totaling >500 citations and belonging to the most cited atmospheric modeling studies for exoplanets.


July 22, 2023: Prof. Benneke's research highlighted in DER SPIEGEL
Coulombe*, Benneke, et al. 2023, Nature: 3D characterization of hot Jupiter. The first eclipse map and thermal emission spectrum from JWST
Pelletier*, Benneke, et al. 2023, Nature: Novel technique measures abundances of 11 rock-forming elements on a giant planet. Measurements not even available for the Solar System giants.
Peterson*, Benneke, et al. 2023, Nature: A volcano-covered terrestrial world outside the Solar System
Piaulet*, Benneke et al. 2022, Nature Astronomy: Two 'water world' exoplanets identified via the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes and detailed atmospheric escape modeling
Prof. Benneke among 8 international scientists selected for the JWST/HST Strategic Planning Inititative Committee
Professional Background

The next five years present a truly unique opportunity in the history of planetary astrophysics. For the first time, the observational techniques, the theoretical models, and a sufficient number of known exoplanets orbiting nearby stars are available to spectroscopically characterize a wide diversity of planets. Planets ranging from blazingly hot giant planets to temperate Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone of their host stars.
Many unanswered questions remain: How and where do planets form? What materials make up their interiors? What gases are in their atmospheres? What role do clouds and hazes play? How big can a terrestrial planet be? How small can a gaseous planet be? And finally, what planets are capable of hosting life?
Professor Benneke’s team is currently in an exceptional position to address many of the questions above because they are currently conducting several unprecedented large observational programs using the new James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the 10-meter Keck observatories in Hawaii.
The main areas that Professor Benneke’s group is working on are:
  • Exploring the diversity of planetary atmospheres on potentially Earth-like planets outside the solar system. Professor Benneke is the principal investigator of one of the largest space telescope programs in the world to characterize small exoplanets.
  • Atmospheric characterization and mapping of exoplanets using the James Webb Space Telescope
  • Probing the formation of giant planets using high-resolution near-infrared spectroscopy from 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii.
  • Discovery and initial characterization of prime targets for future JWST characterization using K2, TESS, and ground-based follow-up
Professor Benneke furthermore serves as the head of the astronomy division within the département de physique at Université de Montréal, consisting of 11 professors and totaling ~100 researchers working in astronomy. He is also on the scientific council / executive board of iREx and, on an international level, Prof. Benneke is the Canadian co-lead of the JWST Early Release Science Program for Exoplanets.
Professor Benneke arrived at Université de Montréal from the California Institute of Technology where he completed a 4-year postdoctoral fellowship. He previously received his PhD at M.I.T supervised by Sara Seager.


Current Benneke Group


Caroline Piaulet

PhD program, Université de Montréal

Louis-Philippe Coulombe

PhD program, Université de Montréal

Stefan Pelletier

PhD student, Université de Montréal

Pierre-Alexis Roy

PhD program, Université de Montréal

Simon Delisle

PhD program, Université de Montréal

Merrin Peterson

MSc program, Université de Montréal

Luc Bazinet

MSc program, Université de Montréal

Marylou F. Tondreau

BSc student, Université de Montréal

Patrick Horlaville

BSc student, McGill University

Jacob Kennedy

BSc student, McGill University


Dr. Lisa Dang

Trottier Postdoctoral Fellow
Université de Montréal

Dr. Romain Allart

Trottier Postdoctoral Fellow
Université de Montréal

Dr. Clémence Fontanive

Trottier Postdoctoral Fellow
Université de Montréal