Do you dream of space travel and stars? Have a desire to understand the planets and the solar system? Then this could be the course for you.
This is a very exciting time for planetary physics with high-profile projects such as Beagle 2 being played out in the news and the imminent planned Chandrayaan mission next month, the remit of which is to map the distribution of mineral and elemental chemical species covering the entire lunar surface. In turn it is hoped that this data will help to find an answer to the question of the origin and evolution of the solar system and the moon.
Courses in planetary physics aim to advance students knowledge of these crucial developments as well as to give a more in-depth understanding of the development and evolution of our own planet. Planetary physics is an interdisciplinary subject bringing together aspects of chemistry, biology, physics, geology and astronomy in order to extrapolate a full and complete picture of areas such as astrobiology, extra-terrestrial materials and their properties, water on Mars, stellar and galactic astronomy, cosmology and the evolution of the planets. Students of planetary physics will develop a high level of numeracy as well as a complex understanding of a broad range of geological, astronomical and physical subject areas. Planetary Physics offers a huge variety of topics for study, for example you may find yourself studying the solar wind, gas-giant and terrestrial worlds, quasars, planetary interiors and surfaces, neuron stars, the sun as a star, red-giants, black holes, galaxies, and cosmology.
Teaching of Planetary Physics is generally done utilising a mixture of lectures, laboratory classes, tutorials and fieldwork; with assessment focused on practical laboratory-based projects supported by examinations, oral presentations and practical tests. Planetary physics is often offered in combination with a complimentary subject such as Geology, Earth sciences or Pure Physics and as such it is worth thoroughly exploring each course before deciding on your preferred institution. It is also worth considering your own personal interests and your long-term career goals in order to determine the types of subject areas you would be most interested in studying - it may be, for example, that one institution has a particular focus on the space exploration aspects of planetary physics or it may be that another focuses far more on the geological aspects of this discipline. Make sure you consider which options will be best suited to you before you apply.
Example areas of study
There are a variety of courses in Planetary Physics in the UK and subjects covered differ from institution to institution; examples of the areas you may study are listed below. However, to find out exactly which modules are covered at your preferred institution you will need to check with them directly to make sure that the course is right for you.
- Geology of the solar system
- Introduction to geochemistry
- Foundations of mineralogy
- Earth history
- Planetary volcanism
- Planetary science
- Chemical evolution of the earth
- Global seismology
- Global tectonics
- Dynamics and relativity
- The quantum universe
- Introduction to computational and experimental physics
- Astrophysics and cosmology
- Quantum mechanics
- Data handling and statistics
- Planetary and atmospheric physics
- The sun and heliosphere
- Probing atoms and molecules
- Mathematical physics
- Space exploration
- Computing for geoscientists
- History of life
- Practical astronomy
- Space science
- Active tectonics
- Oceans, ice sheets and climate
- Physics of the solar systems
- Space systems technology
- High-energy astrophysics
- Signals and communication
- Digital logic
Some career possibilities
It is worth, at this point, issuing a word of warning: jobs, even in supporting roles in space exploration industries, are highly sought after and competition for positions is tough; that said it is also an enormously rewarding and highly skilled environment within which to work. You will need to be very dedicated, determined and willing to invest the time and effort needed to graduate with an excellent degree if you intend to enter into this field. For the few that do make it, space exploration is a challenging but very exciting line of work and if you have the drive to keep striving for it, you should not let the competitive nature of the field put you off.
You should also consider the broad range of other occupations available to you. This includes positions within the petroleum industries, geological studies and research, industries reliant on the exploitation of minerals such as Diamond and Gold mining. Increasingly there are also opportunities within the environmental sector for graduates with a sound understanding of the earth's make up. Many of the available opportunities also involve opportunities to work abroad.
What do I need to get on a course?
The entry requirements for Planetary Physics courses vary between institutions so it is best to check the grades and qualifications you will need with the institutions themselves before submitting your application. The list below will give you an idea of the entry requirements that the institutions may expect:
- UCAS Tariff: 300-340 points
- A-levels: ABC-AAB
- SQA Highers: AABBC-AAB
- SQA Advanced Highers: ABC-AAB
- Irish Leaving Certificates: ABBCC
- International Baccalaureate: 32-38
- Welsh Baccalaureate: AB
- BTEC: DMM-DDD
- Mature entry: Subject to interview and considered on an individual basis.
- Achievements in mathematics, chemistry and physics are preferred.
For your application or interview, the following may be useful:
To find out more about the typical subjects you will study, potential career paths and further information useful for your application log-on to Course Discover at www.coursediscoveronline.co.uk*
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