About Planets and Light

Dr. Franck Marchis is a distinguished planetary astronomer at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute and the Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Unistellar. He moved to the United States in October 2000 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Toulouse, France, a journey marked by global travel for research and exploration. For over two decades, Dr. Marchis has devoted his career to studying our solar system, with a particular focus on the search for asteroids with moons, primarily using ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics (AO).

His more recent work includes contributing to the development of next-generation AOs for 8-10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He currently leads as the collaboration manager of the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey, which aims to image and characterize Jupiter-like exoplanets using an advanced xAO system designed for the Gemini South telescope.

Dr. Marchis is deeply involved in startups that promote science outreach and astronomy. In 2017, he joined Unistellar as Chief Scientific Officer and VR2Planets as a scientific advisor. He is an active member of numerous scientific committees, such as the GPI Steering Committee, the TMT Science Definition Team, and the PLOS One editorial board. He also serves on the advisory boards of Project Blue, the PLANETS Foundation, and the IAA SETI Permanent Committee (since October 2019). In 2023, he was honored as a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.

An author of over 400 scientific publications, Dr. Marchis has mentored many students and has been a science consultant and interviewee for documentaries and movies in English, French, and Spanish. In recognition of his discovery of the first triple-asteroid system in 2007, asteroid (6639) was named “Marchis.” He has been an affiliated Astronomer at Observatoire de Paris since 2003 and, since 2018, an associate researcher at Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM), where he has contributed significantly to the study of main-belt asteroids and the study of satellite constellations. Additionally, in 2019, he took on roles as an adjunct research fellow and Ph.D. advisor at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).

More information at SETI Institute.

Planetary astronomer with 23 years of experience in academic, international and non-profit scientific institutions. Conducted multiple research projects in a wide range of areas.

    • Instrumentation for ground-based telescopes with emphasis on adaptive optics (AO) systems
    • Data-processing and analysis of astronomical and fluorescence microscopy images by deconvolution
    • Research studies including search for moons around asteroids and planets around other stars using a wide variety of instruments leading to 85 publications in major journals including Nature and Icarus

Science communicator with 18 years of experience. Provided scientific leadership needed to give visibility to technological projects by conducting a coherent and modern outreach and public affairs program.

    • Strong communication and collaboration skills. Led international groups of researchers, optimized use of facilities, produced peer-reviewed publications and successfully completed competitive grant proposals
    • Use of modern tools, including blogging, social media, press releases, and web sites to communicate with the public about the excitement of science and technological development
    • Instructed numerous students, organized and taught academic and professional development courses,  gave professional and public conference presentations
    • Consultant and interviewee for several science documentaries for the Science channel, BBC, ARTE and news media in English, French and Spanish.
  • Astrophysics, PhD, Université Paul Sabatier, France, 2000 Dissertation: “High angular resolution imaging of small structures in the solar system: Monitoring of Io volcanic activity”
  • Planetary Science, MS, Université Paul Sabatier, France, 1996
  • Physical Science, B.Sc., Université Paul Sabatier, France, 1995
  • Unistellar, Chief Scientific Officer (June. 2017-Present)
    Lead the communication effort of the company and characterize the potential of the eVscope for professional astronomy.
  • SETI Institute, Chair of the Exoplanet Group & Senior Research Scientist         (Nov. 2012-Present)
    Lead instrumentation projects to search and characterize exoplanets and asteroids using large 8m-10m class ground-based telescopes. Developed of science cases and technological infusion path for space-based telescopes. Member of science committee for future ground-based instruments, including giant telescopes & balloon telescopes.
  • IRIS AO, Senior AO Application scientist    (Mar. 2014 –Jan 2017)Broadened the use of IRIS AO MEMS technology in astronomy, biology, and laser industry by developing new tools for new applications related to adaptive optics. Increased sales revenue and customer base by one order of magnitude.
  • SETI Institute, Science Outreach Manager of the Carl Sagan Center (Dec. 2013-Present) Promote the work of 70 Sagan Center scientists through articles, press releases, and modern social media tools. Spokesperson on behalf the CSC at scientific meetings and conferences.
  • SETI Institute, Research Scientist at the Carl Sagan Center (Jul. 2007-Nov. 2012) Conduct international programs to search and characterize satellites of asteroids using space and ground telescopes including the Keck and VLT telescopes. Science cases and requirements for future adaptive optics in development for ground-based telescopes. First MCAO observations of Jupiter with the VLT.
  • UC Berkeley, Assistant Research Astronomer at the Astronomy Department (Jun. 2003-Jun. 2011) Deconvolution algorithm (AIDA, MISTRAL) for adaptive optics observations of planetary target. Study and publication of the most energetic eruption ever witnessed on Io, and the discovery of the first triple asteroid.
  • UC Berkeley, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Astronomy Department (Nov. 2000-May 2003) Data-processing and analysis of W.M. Keck telescope adaptive optics observations of Io, Titan & Saturn.
  • European Southern Observatory, Chile, Ph.D student (Nov. 1998-Sep. 2000) Analysis and peer-reviewed publications of the first adaptive optics observations of Io and Kleopatra with the adaptive optics of the 3.6m telescope at ESO-La Silla, Chile
  • European Southern Observatory, Chile, French national service (Jun. 1997-Oct. 1998) 200 nights as a support astronomer at 3.6m telescope of ESO and its AO system, the first offered to the community.
  • University College London, UK, Lab Assistant (Jun. 1997-Oct. 1998) Data processing and analysis of Jupiter near-infrared images collected with IRTF
  • UNAM, Mexico, Research Assistant (Jul. 1996-Jan. 1997) Study of image quality for large segmented mirror telescopes.
  • Marchis et al. 2016. Large collaboration in observational astronomy: the Gemini Planet Imager exoplanet survey case, SPIE Proceeding 9910
  • Marchis, et al. 2014. The puzzling mutual orbit of the binary Trojan asteroid (624) Hektor. Ap.J Letter 783
  • Marchis et al., 2012. Multiple Asteroid Systems: Dimensions and Thermal Properties from Spitzer Space Telescope and Ground-Based Observations, Icarus 221, 2, 1130-1161
  • Marchis et al. 2007. Outstanding Questions and Future Explorations, Chapter for “Io After Galileo” book
  • Marchis et al. 2006. A low density of 0.8 g cm-3 for the Trojan binary asteroid 617 Patroclus, Nature, 439, 7076
  • Marchis, et al. 2005. Discovery of the Triple Asteroidal System: 87 Sylvia, Nature, 436, 822-824.
  • Marchis, Processing and Data Analysis with AO Instruments: Challenges & Perspectives, NOAO Workshop, 2016
  • Marchis, Gemini Observatory Adaptive Optics Contributions to Planetary Science, Future and Science of Gemini Observatory, 2015
  • Marchis, et al. Origami NanoSat Telescopes: Planetary Astronomy’s Future unfolds EPSC, London, UK, 2013
  • Marchis, et al. Quantitative solar system science with AO systems, Adaptive Optics Systems III. Proceedings of the SPIE, Volume 8447, id. 84470C-84470C-11, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sep 2012
  • Marchis, Binary and Multiple Asteroids, McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 2011.
  • Marchis, Planetary science in the Eyes of the Giant Telescopes, Feeding the Giants Workshop, Ischia, Italy, August 29- September 2 2011


  • PLANETS Foundation Advisory Board since Apr. 2017
  • Thirty-Meter Telescope International Science Definition Team for Solar System since Oct. 2013
  • PLOS ONE Journal editor board member since Feb. 2013
  • SETI Institute Science Council since Apr. 2015
  • GPI Steering Committee since Nov. 2013
  • Member of several ground-based instrumentation science teams, including ERIS, the ESO next generation AO system since 2011, NGAO the Keck next generation AO since 2006 and Gemini Planet Imager since 2003
  • Session convener at the AGU Fall Meeting on asteroids and comets’ interior and Earth-like exoplanet imaging and habitability since 2011
  • Recipient of the 2004 Grants in Honor of Professor Henri Chretien
  • Asteroid (6639) named Marchis in honor of his discovery of the first triple asteroid system in 2007
  • Affiliated Astronomer at Observatoire de Paris since 2003, NASA badge holder since 2009, Visiting Scholar at USC since 2017
  • Division for planetary sciences of the American Astrophysical Society since 2000
  • American Geophysical Union since 2003 & American Astronomical Society since 2009
  • Union of Concerned Scientists since 2014 & SPIE since 2015