Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Planetary science explained

The surface of MarsGeographers are used to studying the Earth - but what about other planets?

Planetary science uses various different subjects, such as geology, geography, physics and chemistry, to study planets and how they are formed.

For example, understanding the effects that water has on the landscape through processes like erosion makes it possible to work out whether a planet once had running water on it. As water on a planet suggests the possibility that there could be life, this can be a very interesting finding.

As the name suggests, planetary science requires more scientific skills than many other areas of geography. Going extraterrestrial also makes fieldwork rather difficult, although you may do some geological fieldwork here on Earth.

Because so many different areas of study are involved in planetary science, there are lots of different areas to specialize in. Some of these are similar to things studied in geography, such as the why the land is the shape it is or what the atmosphere contains. Others are less familiar, such as the effect of different speeds of rotation on planets. And some planets, like the gas giants, are so different from Earth that there is very little crossover with geography while studying them.

Studying planetary science

Planetary science courses are offered at various universities, including Birkbeck and the Open University. Often, these will not require specific A-levels, although maths, physics and geography can all be useful.

It’s also possible to study other subjects with a planetary science component. For example, some geography and geology degrees will have planetary science modules. There are also courses that approach planetary science from other areas, such as physics with planetary science.

Planetary science is also available at postgraduate level, allowing you to specialise after completing a more general degree in a subject like geology or physics.

Where can planetary science take me?

Most planetary science careers are research-based, and will require you to study for a PhD and find a research position at a university or research institute. However, the skills you learn will be applicable to a wide variety of careers, and courses which combine planetary science with another subject will give you another area to build a career in.

Related Links