Planetary Scientist


A planetary scientist studies natural objects in space. These objects can be as small as a micrometeoroid, usually weighing less than a gram, or as big as a gas giant like Jupiter, about 318 times as big as Earth! A planetary scientist will often study the processes that formed these objects.

Planetary Scientists are a “jack of all trades” because their work requires them to understand many different scientific fields such as: astronomy, geology, geochemistry, and sometimes even oceanography.

They often gather information by sending robotic spacecraft into space and by conducting experiments on Earth that simulate extraterrestrial environments. Sometimes, the scientists themselves even get to go into space to conduct experiments!

Path to Career

The two most important fields for a budding planetary scientist to study are astronomy and earth science. Astronomy is a natural science that examines the physical, chemical, and evolutionary history of celestial objects. Topics such as geology, geophysics, and the atmosphere are studied by earth scientists and planetary scientists alike. If you study how systems on Earth work and have evolved, you’ll be on your way to becoming a stellar planetary scientist!

Daily Tasks
  • Analyzing data from space instruments like satellites
  • Modeling the evolution of planetary climates
  • Comparing Earth environments with other planets
Areas of Expertise
  • Solar studies
  • Optical physics
  • Atmospheres and ionospheres
  • Fields and particles (magnetic, gravitational and electricfields)
Schooling NeededBachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in Physics, Mathematics,
Astrophysics, or Astronomy.

Lab experience with aerospace instrumentation

Related CareersAtmospheric Physics, Planetary Geology, Computer
Programming, Astronomy

Mission Control Staff

Dr. Pilar Hau

Role Models

Dr. Jennifer Heldmann