The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL / Birkbeck


MSc in Planetary Science

Including UCL departments of Physics and Astronomy, Space and Climate Physics and Earth Sciences, and Birkbeck Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Exploring Other Worlds Through An Interdisciplinary Curriculum

MSc 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Rosetta mission: Deployment of the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: Comet image - ESA/Rosetta/NavCam; Composition: ESA/ATG medialab.
The MSc programme in Planetary Science has a curriculum which is drawn from a variety of academic departments within UCL, including Physics and Astronomy, Space and Climate Physics (Mullard Space Science Laboratory), Earth Sciences, and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London. The programme thus has a strong interdisciplinary flavour, in line with the ethos of the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck. 

The combination of taught courses, tutorials and project work allows prospective students to study a wide variety of topics related to planetary and space environments, such as: planetary interiors, atmospheres and magnetospheres; the impact of the space environment on human physiology and life; and the application of current knowledge to investigations of extrasolar planets - worlds in other stellar systems. 

⚠️ Covid-19 programme updates: Please see the MSc Planetary Science course information in the UCL Graduate Prospectus for current information.

Apply Planetary Science MSc

Course structure

The MSc programme in Planetary Science aims to provide students with a sound knowledge of the underlying principles which form a thorough basis for careers in these and related fields, enable students to develop insights into the techniques used in current projects and allow an in-depth experience of a particular specialised research area. In addition they are meant to develop the professional skills for students to play a meaningful role in industrial or academic life, and give students the experience of teamwork, a chance to develop presentation skills and learn to work to deadlines.

The programme includes a number of lecture courses relevant to the discipline and tutorials on programming languages (Python, Fortran, C, Matlab), observational astronomy (at the UCL Observatory) and signal processing (in collaboration with the new UCL's Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science).  The students are also encouraged to attend departmental specialist seminars relevant to the MSc course.

A research topic is included so that 50% of the marks are made up by completing an individual task. 

Please note that the list of modules given here is indicative. This information is published a long time in advance of enrolment and module content and availability is subject to change.

Further information:


MSc (180 credits)

Core Modules  


Research Essay 

Research Dissertation

3 courses must be chosen (45 credits)3 courses must be chosen (45 credits)(30 credits)(60 credits)
An extended literature survey on a topic related to your research project.Students start work on an Individual Project during the first term. This will involve attachment to any of the appropriate research groups within the Departments. For more information see the information below.

Some set topics for individual projects have been selected by potential supervisors, and lists will be available at the start of the first term. Alternatively students can suggest areas in which they are interested. It is, however, essential that the subject of the chosen project is relevant to the programme, and a willing supervisor is also required. Discussions with the MSc Tutor and potential supervisors start in October, a project title must be defined, and a supervisor appointed, by 31 October. Work begins in the first term, usually literature survey and related background work. Progress, plans and difficulties are outlined in an initial report due in the middle of the second term (see the Programme Calendar for the exact date). Assessment of the project is based mainly on the final report, but other components also contribute. It is important that students read and follow the individual project guidelines (a copy of which is included at the end of the handbook).

Research Groups

Astrophysics Group - Department of Physics and Astronomy)Department of Earth Sciences 
Department of Space and Climate Physics (Mullard Space Science Laboratory)
UCLO (UCL Observatory) An excellent facility for observational projects in planetary science and astronomy.Faculty of Life SciencesCentre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck


A list of previous/example projects and their supervisors/contacts:

  • 'Modelling the Effect of the Solar Wind on the Structure of Saturn's Plasma Disc': This project is mainly theoretical, and aims to develop a simple numerical treatment of the 'shielding' magnetic field which arises from currents flowing at the boundary of Saturn's magnetosphere. For particular orientations of the planetary dipole, this 'shielding' field is expected to distort the planet's equatorial plasma sheet into a 'bowl-like' shape, as revealed by Cassini spacecraft observations. Knowledge of the Matlab package is an advantage, but time for learning 'the basics' will be allowed. Supervisor: Prof Nicholas Achilleos (Physics and Astronomy).
  • Projects in Geophysics: Projects are offered by UCL Earth Sciences.
  • Projects about Exoplanetary observation, modelling and dedicated missions:  Projects are offered by: Prof Giovanna Tinetti (UCL Physics and Astronomy).
  • Projects in space instruments: Projects are offered by Dr Giorgio Savini (UCL Physics and Astronomy / UCLO).
  • Projects about Mars geology: Projects are offered by Birkbeck College.
  • Projects about Lunar geology: Projects are offered by Prof Ian Crawford (Birkbeck College).
  • Projects about Astrobiology: Projects are offered by Dr Dominic Papineau (UCL Earth Sciences) and Prof Ian Crawford (Birkbeck College).
  • Projects about Observational Astronomy at UCLO: Projects are offered by Dr Giorgio Savini (UCL Physics and Astronomy / UCLO).
  • 'Simulating cometary sodium tails': Comets have two main types of tail: the ion or plasma tail, composed of ions that have joined the solar wind flowing past the comet, and the dust tail, composed of solid particles accelerated away from the Sun by radiation pressure. There is a third type of tail, seen in only a few bright comets, that comprises neutral sodium atoms that are accelerated away from the Sun by radiation pressure. The strength of the anti-sunward force varies strongly as a function of the atoms' velocity component towards or away from the Sun. The project would involve the analysis of images of actual sodium tails, and the development of a computer simulation of the tails to attempt to reproduce their characteristics. Supervisor: Prof Geraint Jones (MSSL).
  • Projects involving analysis of data from space missions such as Venus Express, Mars Express and Cassini. Projects are offered by Prof Andrew Coates, MSSL.
  • Projects about the preparation of the PLATO space mission (ESA-M3 mission to detect new extrasolar planets). Projects are offered by Prof Alan Smith's team at MSSL.
  • 'ExoMol: Molecular line lists for exoplanet and other atmospheres': With the discovery that exoplanets are ubiquitous, the emphasis Has shifted to trying to characterise them. This is done by studying molecular spectra gives rise to a major demand for laboratory data. The ExoMol project, as funded by the European Research Council (ERC), aims to provide comprehensive data on the spectroscopy of all molecules which thought to be important components of exoplanet atmospheres. This will be done by constructing, testing (against laboratory experiment) and using appropriate theoretical models for each molecule. There are a number of openings for student projects in this area: calculating molecular cooling functions, partition functions, linelists for simple (diatomic) molecules and constructing tables of experimental energy levels. The student will join a team working on this problem. Supervisor: Prof Jonathan Tennyson (Physics and Astronomy).
  • 'The diagenesis of organic matter in stromatolitic carbonate': This project will involve petrographic analysis of organic matter in Precambrian stromaolites by optical microscopy.  Mineral groups such as carbonates, phosphates, sulphides, oxides, phylloscilicates and others will be mapped correlatively by micro0Raman imaging to investigate their relationship with organic matter. Samples of exceptionally-preserved stromatolitic carbonate from the late Paleoproterozoic Belcher Group are available for petrographic analysis. These will be complemented by stable isotope analyses of carbon in organic matter and in carbonate to provide constraints on the carbon cycle.  Results will help to determine how diagenetic processes affect the preservation of organic matter and a view of how it operated after the Great Oxidation Event. Supervisor: Dr Dominic Papineau (UCL Earth Sciences).
Entry requirements

Academic Entry Requirements

A minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline, preferably with substantial physics content, from a UK university or an equivalent overseas qualification

Further information

There is further information at the MSc Planetary Science pages of the UCL Graduate Prospectus, including:

  • International equivalent qualifications by country
  • English language requirements for international applicants
  • Latest tuition fees
Apply online checklist

The department is now open for applications for entry in September 2021 and applicants should apply online.

Students are advised to apply as early as possible due to competition for places and before 31 May 2021.  Any late applications received after this date will only be considered after all those received by the closing date.

Apply Online

Contact information