The MSc Planetary Sciences has been designed to address the skills and knowledge gap in the field of planetary exploration and research.
Planned and delivered by the University of Aberdeen’s ground-breaking planetary sciences team, this MSc provides an informed understanding of planetary atmospheres and landforms, space environment, remote sensing, data analysis, astrobiology and space systems engineering and instrumentation, giving students with a springboard for a career in the rapidly expanding space sector.
At a Glance
- Learning Mode
- On Campus Learning
- Degree Qualification
- 12 months
- Study Mode
- Full Time
- Start Month
- January or September
- Location of Study
We live in a time of unprecedented investment and collaboration in space exploration led by the ‘big six’ space agencies – NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, CNSA, ISRO and JAXA – and an ever-growing list of national space agencies and private companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, who are keen to compete in the rapidly expanding spaceflight sector.
The ambitious plans for the following decades include sending humans back to the moon, establishing a colony on Marrs, searching for life near Saturn, sending missions to probe the metalcore of a dead planet, and exploring the hidden ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa.
These plans pose significant scientific and technological challenges which can only be overcome through an interdisciplinary approach. This MSc, therefore, draws on the diverse expertise and experience of the planetary sciences team at the University of Aberdeen to provide you with a detailed understanding of the pioneering research and technological developments that will guide the future development of space exploration.
You will begin from the observation and exploration of Earth to other objects of the solar system such as the Moon, Mars and exoplanets, to understand the critical steps of formation of these objects, including the physics of atmospheres, magnetic fields, geomorphology of the surface, isotopic differentiation and the formation of habitable environments before moving on to focus on developing the key technical research skills needed for deep space exploration.
Our aim, therefore, is to educate, to an advanced specialist level, a new generation of geologists, physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers of all disciplines.
The interdisciplinary training included in this programme will provide you with the skills to tackle other problems outside of space exploration, such as instrument design, geology, microbiology and environmental sciences, planetary sciences and data analysis in remote sensing.
What You'll Study
- Semester 1
1. Comparative Planetology and the Atmosphere of Earth
In this course, we will cover how studies of the other planets of the solar system have helped us understand Earth's atmosphere better. We will review the fundamental physical and chemical processes in planetary atmospheres, and we will provide an up-to-date overview of modelling, observation methods and missions to study planetary atmospheres.
The study of planetary atmospheres is at the core of planetary exploration, intending to probe the nature and evolution of the planets and their atmospheres; and we will review past, current and future missions providing information about the atmospheres of the planets. We will study how our solar system planets formed and evolved to their current states. This understanding of our solar system may also enable us to predict exoplanets' properties around other stars.
2. Basics of Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis
This course will provide an overview of planetary remote sensing principles and methods. There is no prerequisite for taking this course. This course introduces remote sensing - the acquisition of information from a distance, typically via airborne and spaceborne sensors, and the integration and analysis of remotely sensed data in a geospatial environment. This course introduces students to the basics of geospatial analysis and its applications. The students will be trained on performing geospatial integration and analysis of different spatial datasets. The students will also learn about different approaches to automating the processing of geospatial datasets using ArcGIS Pro and will be introduced to writing Python scripts by configuring Spyder IDE for using the arcpy library.
3. Spectroscopy, Radiative Transfer and Retrieval
This course will provide the fundamental knowledge to a depth that will leave a student with the background to perform quantitative research on atmospheres. It spans across principles through applications, with sufficient background for students without prior experience in spectroscopy or radiative transfer. The course will be accompanied by the development of increasingly sophisticated atmospheric and spectroscopic modelling capability. Students will develop practical computer model simulation of atmospheric Earth/Solar System planets/exoplanet spectra from microwave through ultraviolet, depending on their interests.
4. Instrumentation for Planetary Exploration, Spacecraft Design, and Data Archiving
This course gives an overview of the main aspects of engineering and science for space exploration. In this course, the student will get introduced to the main stages of the design of space exploration instrumentation, the constraints that must be satisfied, the main qualification and project management milestones and how the data are produced and released. The training will be focused on practical cases, using when possible online training tools. Students will get some basic training on tools for CAD (Computer-Aided Design) modelling, structural and thermal modelling and will get familiarized with the ECSS (European Cooperation for Space Standardization) that is followed by the European Space Agency (ESA).
- Semester 2
1. Earth and Planetary Surface and Internal Processes
This course will concentrate on the Terrestrial planets and their satellites (Earth’s Moon, Mars, Venus & Mercury) and their meteorite record. The internal structure of planets is best interrogated by geophysical processes, although the geophysical record is sketchy for the Terrestrial planets. However, the composition age and distribution of volcanic and associated rocks act as a probe for our understanding of internal planetary processes and provide an insight into surface processes. For Earth’s Moon there are significant observational and analytical data sets derived from the Apollo landings of the 1960s and 1970s and more recent lunar probes. Whilst it is 50 years since materials were collected during the Apollo missions, our understanding of the evolution of the Earth and Moon has improved dramatically largely because new analytical technologies allow non-destructive, very high-precision chemical and mineralogical analysis. The surface rocks of Mars have been interrogated by in situ mineralogical analysis. For the other terrestrial planets, we rely mainly on meteorite samples and remote sensing technologies to understand their internal and surface geology respectively.
2. Astrobiology, Biogeochemistry and Geobiology for Explorers
This course will explore the origins and likely extent of life on Earth and in the Solar System. We will begin by discussing the elements and building blocks of life and processes that can make precursors of life (e.g. amino acids). We will then discuss how microbial life may be fossilised and how to identify ancient and extra-terrestrial signs of life. We will make use of our excellent analytical facilities to show how biotic signals can be distinguished from abiotic effects, including exploring organic carbon biomarkers, and using examples of fossilisation of microorganisms by siliceous and carbonate minerals from lakes, streams, hot-springs and oceans. From there, we will be able to explore potentially habitable environments of our Solar System, and learn about current and future astrobiological exploration missions (Martian rovers and orbiters, asteroid, comets, sample return, ocean worlds…)
3. Sustainable deep space exploration: space agreements, In-Situ Resource Utilization, extra-terrestrial materials; sample Return and Planetary Protection
This course provides practical training on some of the most challenging issues of space exploration. In this course, the student will overview the present and future challenges of space exploration, including in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), sample return missions and planetary protection (PP). Students will get familiarized with the space exploration roadmap and the international space treaties. The students will also understand the main challenges of sustaining a habitable environment in space, such as the ISS, considering life support systems and radiation protection. The course will include practical exercises where students can propose an ISRU solution or demonstrate their ability to dress in PP garments, which is a prerequisite to operating in a cleanroom.
4. Space Weather and Radiation for Planetary Exploration
Space weather describes the varying conditions in the space environment between the sun and Earth. Phenomena associated with space weather have the potential to impact systems and technologies in orbit and on Earth. For example, solar energetic particles can penetrate satellite electronics and cause electrical failure. These energetic particles also block radio communications at high latitudes during solar radiation storms. Each phenomenon of space weather impacts a different technology.
In this course, we will review Space Weather on Earth, and we will use the lessons learned to understand the impact of the space environment on planetary exploration.
- Semester 3
1. Research Dissertation
We will endeavour to make all course options available; however, these may be subject to timetabling and other constraints. Please see our InfoHub pages for further information.
Why Study Planetary Sciences?
- The MSc Planetary Science is a fascinating and diverse programme. You will study planets, moons, and planetary systems and the technology that helps us understand the processes that form them.
- This is a cross-discipline programme, with a diverse range of topics of interest to students from a broad range of backgrounds – from geoscientists to physicists to chemists and biologists.
- According to the latest industry survey, Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2020, the UK space sector is growing rapidly. Scotland alone is now home to 173 space organisations, with 1,951 space companies in total supporting a total of 126,300 jobs across the UK supply chain.
- The Department of Planetary Science is part of current and future missions to Mars: we have an instrument on the NASA curiosity rover on Mars, we are co-Investigators in the ESA Trace Gas Orbiter, and we have developed an instrument that will go to Mars in 2022, in the ExoMars mission.
- This device is called HABIT (HabitAbility: Brines, Irradiation and Temperature) and, among other things, will produce liquid water on Mars, to support future exploration of the planet.
- The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that it is suitable for students from across the sciences, including geology, biology, physics, and engineering planetary science, building new STEM skills based on its interdisciplinary nature.
- For students with a science background, the course will provide the needed spacecraft design and engineering exposure. At the same time, for the engineers, it will encourage an appreciation for space science and research, and the supporting technologies for robotic and human space exploration and instrumentation.
- As the programme teaches key transferable skills and knowledge including instrument design, geology, microbiology and environmental sciences, planetary sciences and data analysis in remote sensing, it is also a suitable programme for students interested in a wider set of careers, outside of planetary science research.
It is a program designed for students with a science or engineering background who are interested in interdisciplinary planetary research.
The information below is provided as a guide only and does not guarantee entry to the University of Aberdeen.
2:1 (upper second class) UK Honours degree, or an Honours degree from a non-UK institution which is judged by the University to be of equivalent worth, in Geosciences, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences or Engineering.
Please enter your country to view country-specific entry requirements.
English Language Requirements
To study for a Postgraduate Taught degree at the University of Aberdeen it is essential that you can speak, understand, read, and write English fluently. The minimum requirements for this degree are as follows:
OVERALL - 6.5 with: Listening - 5.5; Reading - 5.5; Speaking - 5.5; Writing - 6.0
OVERALL - 90 with: Listening - 17; Reading - 18; Speaking - 20; Writing - 21
OVERALL - 62 with: Listening - 59; Reading - 59; Speaking - 59; Writing - 59
Cambridge English B2 First, C1 Advanced, C2 Proficiency:
OVERALL - 176 with: Listening - 162; Reading - 162; Speaking - 162; Writing - 169
You will be required to supply the following documentation with your application as proof you meet the entry requirements of this degree programme. If you have not yet completed your current programme of study, then you can still apply and you can provide your Degree Certificate at a later date.
- Degree Transcript
- a full transcript showing all the subjects you studied and the marks you have achieved in your degree(s) (original & official English translation)
- Personal Statement
- a detailed personal statement explaining your motivation for this particular programme
|EU / International students||£18,400|
|Tuition Fees for 2021/22 Academic Year|
|Home / RUK||£8,200|
|Tuition Fees for 2021/22 Academic Year|
Additional Fee Information
- In exceptional circumstances there may be additional fees associated with specialist courses, for example field trips. Any additional fees for a course can be found in our Catalogue of Courses.
- For more information about tuition fees for this programme, including payment plans and our refund policy, please visit our InfoHub Tuition Fees page.
Eligible self-funded international Masters students will receive the Aberdeen Global Scholarship. Visit our Funding Database to find out more and see our full range of scholarships.
Aberdeen Global Scholarship (EU)
The Aberdeen Global Scholarship is open to European Union (EU) students.
This is a £2,000 tuition fee discount available to eligible self-funded Postgraduate Masters students who are classed as International fee status and are domiciled in the EU, plus another £3,000 discount for eligible Postgraduate Masters students who would have previously been eligible for Home fees (Scottish/EU) fee status.View Aberdeen Global Scholarship
The UK space industry is booming. Findings from the latest ‘Size and Health of the UK Space Industry’ report reveal growth in jobs and income - with more than 3,000 jobs created as the space sector grows across the UK.
The Space Sector Skills Survey 2020 from the UK Space Agency showed that the recent growth in the space industry has, however, placed stress on skills supply, i.e. the growth in the number of people with the required skills has not kept pace with growth in demand.
Employers need graduates with technical skills, supported by qualifications at the post-graduate level, which is what this programme is designed to provide.
The Department of Planetary Science is focused on the study of Earth and planetary sciences and the development of instruments for Earth and planetary exploration. We are part of current and future missions to Mars: we have an instrument on the NASA curiosity rover on Mars, we are co-Investigators in the ESA Trace Gas Orbiter, and we have developed an instrument that will go to Mars in 2022, in the ExoMars mission.
- Programme Coordinator
- Javier Martin-Torres
Information About Staff Changes
You will be taught by a range of experts including professors, lecturers, teaching fellows and postgraduate tutors. Staff changes will occur from time to time; please see our InfoHub pages for further information.
Get in Touch
Student Recruitment & Admissions Service
University of Aberdeen