Stanford University
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Planetary Science


Photo by NASA/JPL

Why study planets?

Like pioneers, planetary scientists explore new worlds and push the boundaries of humankind’s reach in the universe. As planetary scientists, we lay eyes on landscapes never seen before, and use our observations to seek answers to some of the most fundamental and existential questions there are. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Are we alone in the universe?

In addition to its fundamental and exploratory aspirations, planetary science has concrete applications to pressing issues for humankind. Earth is a planet, and by looking at other planets, we can get a glimpse at Earth’s past and potential futures. Humans are affecting Earth in ways that may threaten its long-term habitability. Other planets can teach us how to adjust our interactions with the natural world towards sustainable habitability, and potentially provide a source of raw materials and energy through in situ resource utilization.

Why study planetary science at Stanford?

We have access to cutting-edge facilities and infrastructures at both the University main campus and at SLAC. Stanford sits at the heart of a vibrant community of planetary scientists around the Bay Area, including researchers at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, NASA Ames, the SETI Institute, and Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Our research also benefits from Silicon Valley’s long history and culture of data-driven science and innovation.

Meet our community

Faculty, researchers, postdocs, and external affiliates.

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Bay Area Planetary Science forum

Join our regional group of scientists, researchers, and academics working in planetary science. Watch for events on this page, contact Mathieu Lapôtre at or visit the BAPS website.

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Planetary Science News

Researchers model source of eruption on Jupiter’s moon Europa

A new model shows how brine on Jupiter’s moon Europa can migrate within the icy shell to form pockets of salty water that erupt to the surface when freezing. The findings, which are important for the upcoming Europa Clipper mission, may explain cryovolcanic eruptions across icy bodies in the solar system.

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Perseverance will seek signs of life on Mars

According to Stanford University Mars experts, NASA’s latest Martian rover will drive a wave of exciting discoveries when it lands on the Red Planet – and possibly alter scientists’ understanding of the blue one it launches from.

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A steaming cauldron follows the dinosaurs’ demise

The Chicxulub impact crater that is linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs hosted a hydrothermal system that chemically and mineralogically modified more than 100,000 cubic kilometers of Earth’s crust, according to new research.

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Hunting down clues to Earth's early molten days

Scientists are still trying to piece together how Earth transformed from a molten planet to one with living creatures walking around on its silicate mantle and crust. Hints lie in the strange ways materials behave under extreme temperatures and pressures.

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