Planetary Geologist  What They Do

Just the Facts

Geoscientists Career Video

Insider Info

dotWhat is the moon made of? What about Saturn, Jupiter and the ever-mysterious Pluto? Planetary geologists study how these and other space bodies were formed.

By analyzing photos of planets, moons, asteroids and comets, planetary geologists can begin to understand their history, climate and topography. Some planetary geologists work with actual specimens gathered from space missions.

dotMost planetary geologists are professors at universities. They conduct research and teach courses. Others work for government agencies such as NASA. Still other planetary geologists work for private research institutions.

dotPlanetary geologists can spend time working in their offices, in front of computers and in space laboratories. The amount of time spent in each location varies with the type of research being done.

"It varies from person to person," says Jeff Klemaszewski. He is a research specialist in planetary geology at Arizona State University. "Some prefer doing lab work and others do more computer processing."

dotThe average workday can vary for planetary geologists. Those doing computer processing or teaching at a university may work regular office hours. However, deadlines during research missions may mean long hours.

"If you have a spacecraft approaching a moon to take images, your deadline isn't flexible. These are intense times and the pace is demanding," says Klemaszewski.

dotPhysical requirements can vary. Some planetary geologists travel to meetings. Others exclusively do research and computer work. Eye strain and repetitive strain injuries are dangers.

At a Glance

Study bodies in space

  • Most planetary geologists are college professors
  • Some work with actual specimens gathered from space missions
  • Earth sciences, astronomy, geology, chemistry and physics are good degrees to get