ISE - Our Team

James Kasting

Dr. James F. Kasting

James Kasting is a Distinguished Professor of Geosciences at Penn State University. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in Chemistry and Physics and did his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in Atmospheric Sciences. Prior to coming to Penn State in 1988, he spent 7 years in the Space Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center. His research focuses on the evolution of planetary atmospheres, particularly the question of why the atmospheres of Mars and Venus are so different from that of Earth. He is perhaps best known for his efforts to define the liquid water habitable zone around other stars using one-dimensional, globally averaged climate models.

Kasting is the author or coauthor of two books and over 140 research papers. He has served on numerous NASA committees, most recently the Astrophysics Subcommittee to the NASA Advisory Council and the Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG), which he chaired from 2009-2011. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geochemical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (ISSOL). In 2008, he received the Oparin Medal from ISSOL for “significant career contributions to the origin of life field”.

Kasting has been a leader in NASA’s search for habitable extrasolar planets. In 2005-06 he co-chaired the Science and Technology Definition Team for TPF-C (Terrestrial Planet Finder-Coronagraph). This mission, when it is finally built, will be designed to find Earth-like planets around other stars, if they exist, and to characterize their atmospheres spectroscopically. This mission is on hold right now, as are many other large NASA space missions, but it is expected to resurface a few years from now when budgetary constraints are not quite so tight. The search for other Earths is described in Kasting’s 2010 book, How to Find a Habitable Planet.

Kasting’s teaching interests are in the field of planetary atmospheres and in modern global change, particularly climate change. His textbook, The Earth System, coauthored with Lee Kump and Robert Crane, explores past and future climate from an interdisciplinary standpoint. It is used in undergraduate courses at Penn State and elsewhere for both science and non-science majors. All three coauthors of this book consider it their duty to teach students about how the climate system works and to help them develop informed opinions on environmental and energy policy.