Planetary Geology PhD Programs

Learn about your options for attending a PhD program in the area of planetary geology as well as common courses and entrance requirements. Then, explore different planetary geology career paths.

Information for PhD in Planetary Geology Programs

Planetary geology is a branch of geology that focuses on planets and other celestial objects, such as moons, comets, asteroids, and meteorites. Although PhD programs in the exact field of planetary geology are rare, there are several similar disciplines that cover the same area of study, including:

  • Planetary sciences
  • Planetary geosciences
  • Geological sciences

PhD programs in this field usually require the completion of qualifying exams, a dissertation proposal, a research-driven dissertation, and coursework like those explored in-depth below.

Planetary Geology

A course on planetary geology may serve as a foundational course in your PhD program. Here, you'd study a range of topics in the field. For example, you could study the process of planetary geological development and evolution of places like Earth and Mars and the varied morphologies of planetary bodies. Some courses also cover how to access and use data from organizations, such as NASA, and how to use conceptual models and simulations.

Remote Sensing of Earth and Planetary Surfaces

Another course you could take is remote sensing techniques and theories for studying the geological materials of Earth and other planetary bodies. Here, you might learn about how electromagnetic radiation, such as X-rays and gamma rays, can be used to complete geochemical and other types of geological analyses. Some courses focus on other types of instruments that can be used in remote sensory and teach you how to process and visualize data.

Geophysics

Geophysics is a branch of science that utilizes physics and chemistry theories to study different planetary phenomena, such as the formation and evolution of terrestrial objects. Specific areas you may study include tectonophysics, glaciology, and geochronology. You may also explore topics like magnetism, the creation of magma oceans, and the effects of planetary impacts or collisions.

Planetary Volcanology

In a course on planetary volcanology, you'll likely dive into volcanism in the context of planetary objects. Typically, you use calculus-based methods and other analysis tools to explore such things as fluid dynamics, open-channel flow, and hydraulic jumps. Some courses also cover the history of planetary volcanology, including thermal evolution and comparative planetary volcanology.

Hydrogeology

Hydrogeology centers on the study of planetary groundwater and related topics. Some areas you might learn about include the hydrologic cycle, water quality, the categories of aquifers, and groundwater flow. You might also be taught some field skills, such as how to set up monitoring systems and wells and how to collect water samples.

Admissions Requirements for PhD in Planetary Geology Programs

Generally, to apply to a planetary geology PhD program, you need to have already earned a bachelor's degree. Most programs are flexible as to the type of degree but prefer you have a background in earth science, planetary science, biology, physics, or another science-focused field. Application materials vary by program, but you usually need to submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. Most programs, but not all, require the submission of GRE scores as well.

Planetary Geology Career Outlook

Geoscientist

A geoscientist conducts research into the structures, elements, and processes of the Earth. Geologists, specifically, focus on the rocks and minerals of the Earth. Although geoscientists normally only need a bachelor's degree, most positions require a master's degree, and a PhD could help you specialize further in the field of planetary geology.

Astronomer

Astronomers research celestial phenomena and bodies. As an astronomer in the planetary field, you might study such things as planetary formation and stellar evolution. Most astronomer positions in the fields of academia and research require a PhD.

Planetary Geology Professor

A university professor in the field of planetary geology teaches courses in their specialized field. Professors must create curricula for their classes, grade assignments, act as a mentor, and conduct their own publishable research. Professors who work for 4-year universities generally need to have earned a PhD in the area in which they will teach.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2019) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Geoscientists $92,040 6%
Physicists and Astronomers $122,220 9%
Atmospheric, Earth, Marine, and Space Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary $92,040 4%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

There are several types of PhD programs available that allow students to study planetary geology topics. After earning a PhD in the field, students may go on to a science or teaching career in the area of geological sciences or planetary astronomy.