The Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Imperial College London has launched a new undergraduate program.
The new Earth and Planetary Sciences Diploma program will run both as a 3-year bachelor’s degree and a 4-year master’s degree in science, starting in September 2019.
Planetary science – the study of planets, planetary systems, and the processes that form them – is an important and overlapping sister topic of mainstream geoscience, and is currently attracting great interest from the research community.
There is an abundance of active and impending missions by a variety of international space agencies, looking at our solar system. NASA OSIRIS-Rex and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is currently orbiting their small target asteroids, Bennu and Ryugu, and will soon collect samples to return to Earth to study the origins of our solar system. Earlier this year, Chang’e 4, the Chinese National Space Administration’s lunar rover, successfully landed on the far side of the moon and transmitted data to Earth for the first time via a dedicated satellite. And 2019 also saw NASA commit to returning astronauts to the moon over the next five years.
Current active missions that ESE personnel participate in include NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and InSight lander, ESA’s ExoMars trace gas orbiter, and the NASA. ESE staff will also be involved in the upcoming ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars 2020 and NASA Mars 2020 to Mars missions.
The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission is a technology test focused on planetary defense to prevent an impact of the Earth by a dangerous asteroid. DART (launch in July 2021, intercept in September 2022) will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to modify the motion of an asteroid in space.
The new degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences will equip students with the relevant geological, geochemical and geophysical skills and knowledge that are increasingly important in the study of solid planetary bodies in the solar system.
Sanjeev Gupta, a professor in the department heavily involved in the mission of the Curiosity rover, is excited about the prospects for the course.
“Through this degree, students will gain a solid theoretical and practical foundation in earth sciences, and then learn to apply it to planetary science.”
“Right now there is a plethora of new active and upcoming planetary missions as well as new techniques for analyzing space rocks, meteorites, and these offer many new opportunities to learn more. on planetary origins and evolution, ”explains Professor Gupta. “During your 3rd or 4th year of this new course, you may well analyze the data collected by the missions yet to be launched. “The study program includes a suite of new planetary modules ranging from meteorites to astrobiology. Students undertaking this degree will also have the opportunity to work on datasets from NASA and ESA-led missions to Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and Venus.
Gareth Collins, professor at ESE and co-investigator of NASA’s InSight mission, also looks forward to the course and sees exciting opportunities for graduates.
“The amount of new data coming back to Earth from intrepid spacecraft across the solar system is staggering and will only continue to increase. Exciting new discoveries are fast approaching and students with the necessary skills and knowledge to analyze and interpret these data are and will be in great demand. “
Exciting new discoveries are fast approaching, and students with the skills and knowledge to analyze and interpret this data are and will be in high demand. Gareth Collins Professor of Earth Sciences and Engineering and co-investigator of the NASA InSight mission
However, it is not just the students who will benefit. Dr Lizzie Day, geophysics lecturer and undergraduate admissions tutor for the department, sees it as a great opportunity to showcase the work of departmental researchers working in planetary geosciences. “We have a lot of different academic staff in our department, who work on a wide range of different planetary topics. Said Dr Day. “It is likely that about 20% of our staff would classify among planetary scientists as well as Earth scientists, so we are truly delighted to have the chance to share some of our expertise in planetary science.”
Professor Mark Sephton, head of the department, is an organic geochemist whose research includes the quest to determine whether life existed or still exists on Mars. “Our Earth and Planetary Science students will be able to ask questions such as’ Where is the best place to look for life in the solar system? “”
Further details on Earth and Planetary Science programs are available on the Undergraduate Earth Sciences and Engineering webpages.