Exploring this Job

If this career sounds interesting, try to read as much as possible about the general field of geology and the more specialized field of astrogeology. Your best chance for association with geologists and geological work is to join clubs or organizations concerned with such things as rock collecting. Amateur geological groups and local museums also offer opportunities for you to gain exposure to the field of geology.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center provides a wealth of information about astrogeology. Here are two of its specialized Web pages to check out: Maps (https://www.usgs.gov/centers/astrogeology-science-center/maps) and Multimedia Gallery (https://www.usgs.gov/products/multimedia-gallery/overview).

Ask your science teacher or school counselor to arrange an information interview with a geologist or astrogeologist. 

The Job

Astrogeologists apply their knowledge of geology, astronomy, and other scientific disciplines to interpret surface conditions on the Earth’s Moon, other planets and their moons, comets, asteroids, and meteorites. There are several types of specialized astrogeologists, which are detailed below.

Astrogeomorphologists study planets and the processes that created them. They study how climate, wind, water, heat, ice, and other factors affected the landscape of planets over million of years. Astrogeophysicists are concerned with matter and energy and how they interact. They study the physical properties and structure of planets, from their interior to their upper atmosphere, including land surfaces and subsurfaces. Astrogeochemists study the chemical composition of, and the changes in, minerals and rocks on planets, moons, asteroids, and other heavenly bodies. Structural astrogeologists study the ways the faulting and folding of a planet’s crust deforms a planet over time.

Astrogeologists cannot travel to other planets, asteroids, and comets to conduct research, although one astronaut-geologist named Harrison Schmitt traveled to the Moon to do research. To conduct research, they instead analyze samples (such as rocks and dust from the Moon) that have been brought back to Earth by astronauts or that have entered the Earth’s atmosphere (such as meteorites). They also study photographs taken by astronauts, the Hubble Telescope and other Earth-based and space telescopes, and long-range spacecraft, as well as review statistical information on a planet’s temperature, climate, and overall composition. Astrogeologists also use computer programs to simulate conditions on planets and other celestial bodies, and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software packages. For example, an astrogeologist may use a computer program to simulate the movement of water on Mars and determine how it affected the landscape. Some astrogeologists travel to places on Earth that they believe resemble Mars or other planets to study their geology and learn how to work in demanding conditions. They do this because they will someday be able to travel to distant planets to conduct research.