Planetary Science Education: Thoughts, Approaches, and Examples for Teaching Planetary Science and Introducing Students to the Research Process

Monday 12-2:30pm PT / 1-3:30pm MT / 2-4:30pm CT / 3-5:30pm ET Online
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Nick Lang, Mercyhurst College
Jeannette Wolak Luna, Tennessee Technological University

This short course will work with participants on the development of a class in planetary geology. Topics to cover in a planetary geology course, teaching (and research) resources, example class activities, syllabi, and assessments will all be discussed in this session. A syllabus for a planetary geology course will be created as part of this workshop and participants will receive a list of resources to help with teaching and research in this content area.


By the end of this workshop, participants will:

  • Create a syllabus for an undergraduate course in planetary geology
  • Access and use resources for teaching planetary geology
  • Develop strategies for keeping course content updated and relevant
  • Become part of a network of educators interested in developing and sharing resources for teaching planetary science


All times provided below are EDT:

3:00 Welcome and introductions (Name, home institution, and major "take away" you'd like from this session)

3:10 Syllabus construction (Where would course fit into your curriculum? Course objectives? Example syllabi)

4:10 Break

4:20 An overview of available resources and teaching activities (including how to access them and examples/ideas for using them)

5:20 Wrap-up and workshop evaluation

5:30 Adjourn

Sample Syllabi

Here are some example syllabi from planetary courses we have taught; a quick internet search will provide other examples. There are two end members of how courses are approached: 1) a target-based perspective (e.g., Mars, Moon, etc...) that weaves in geologic processes and 2) a process-based approach that weaves in information about rocky bodies throughout the semester. The syllabi here emphasize a target-based approach.

JL_Planetary_Geoscience_Syllabus_Spring_2021.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 52kB Jul7 21)

JL_Planetary_Geoscience_Schedule_Spring_2021 .pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 20kB Jul7 21)

Semester long course: terrestrial_planets_syllabus_spring_2014b.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 92kB Jul9 21)

Four week course: terrestrial_planets_syllabus_jterm_2014b.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 63kB Jul9 21)

Sample Exercises

Research project on terrestrial analog example:

JL_Extended_Abstract_Project_Part_I.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 165kB Jul7 21)

JL_Extended_Abstract_Project_Part_II.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 200kB Jul7 21)

JL_Extended_Abstract_Project_Part_III.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 286kB Jul7 21)

JL_Extended_Abstracts_Project_Samples.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1.3MB Jul7 21)

JL_Extended_Abstract_Project_Rubric.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB Jul7 21)

Model rocketry lab project example:

rocketry_part_3.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 132kB Jul9 21)

rocketry_part_2.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 135kB Jul9 21)

rocketry_part_1.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 130kB Jul9 21)

rocketry_rubric.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 155kB Jul9 21)

rocketry_part_4.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 129kB Jul9 21)

Just for fun, here are some videos of students launching their rockets for this activity:

ross_sam_launch.MOV (Quicktime Video 13.9MB Jul9 21)

good_estes_launch.MOV (Quicktime Video 15.7MB Jul9 21)

ponderosa_launch.MOV (Quicktime Video 14.3MB Jul9 21)

kyle_steph_malko_launch.MOV (Quicktime Video 10.1MB Jul9 21)

Here are several other activity examples. Several of these were created by other geoscience educators who have shared these via SERC.

Solar system geography: solar_system_geography.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 107kB Jul9 21)

Relative dating and geologic mapping:Venus venus_corona_observation.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 2.1MB Jul9 21); Mars relative_dating_mapping_arsia_mars.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 128kB Jul9 21)

Impact cratering: impact_cratering_exercise.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 263kB Jul9 21)

Volcanism: volcanism_exercise.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 72kB Jul9 21)

Water-related processes: Discharge on Mars mars_rain.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 3.7MB Jul9 21); Rain on Mars discharge_exercise.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 6.9MB Jul9 21); Ridges on Mars argyre_ridges_exercise.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 4.7MB Jul9 21)

Landing site selection on Mars:grosfils_landing_site_lab.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 75kB Jul9 21)

Sample Learning Objectives

Learning objectives for planetary courses typically have the following themes in common:

  • Motivations and methodologies for exploring other solar system bodies
  • Oral and written communication
  • Scientific literacy (including evaluating information accuracy)
  • Processes that operate (and have operated) in our solar system
  • Solar System geography and evolution

Please see the provided syllabi for specific learning objectives.


JMARS (geospatial program for Mars and other planetary bodies):

NASA STEM Engagement:

USGS Astrogeology page:

Map a Planet (acquire planetary datasets; will need to register for an account):

PDS Node (datasets from NASA missions):

GSA's Planetary Geology Division website:

NASA's Solar System exploration page:

Citizen science (NASA page):

Erupt computer program (volcanism on other planets):

NASA lab manual (numerous activities included): NASA_lab_module.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 7.8MB Jul9 21)

NASA samples for educational use:

Solar System treks (explore the different bodies of the Solar System):

Exoplanet exploration: