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Learn about planets with online courses and programs

Are you curious about the solar system and the planets that lie within and beyond the Milky Way galaxy? From space exploration to the physical properties of different planets, you can uncover the mysteries of outer space with online courses on edX.

What are planets?

In 2006, Pluto was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet, prompting many people to ask themselves what constitutes a planet at all. According to the International Astronomical Union, a planet must meet three criteriaFootnote 1:

1. It must orbit a star.

2. It must be large enough to be forced into a spherical shape by gravity.

3. It must be large enough to push similar-sized objects near its orbit out of its way.

Planets can fall into different primary categories, including rocky planets, gas giants, and ice giants. There are also dwarf planets, like Pluto, and hypothetical planets, whose existence is not yet proven but rather inferred through scientific observation. Studying their properties can help us understand Earth, other celestial bodies, and whether they can support life.

Planets | Introduction Image Description

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Planetary science course curriculum

If you’re ready to learn about the planets, you may decide to focus your studies on the broader topic of planetary science, or you may be interested in a particular aspect within the field. Either way, it’s good to build a foundation in basic concepts such as:

  • Basic mathematics: Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

  • Physics: Classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and optics.

  • Astronomy and astrophysics: Observational tools and techniques, stars, galaxies, and the origins of the universe.

  • Planetary science: Geology, atmospheric science, chemistry, and biology.

It can also help to gain experience with computer science fundamentals, such as programming and data analysis. You can also deepen your knowledge by exploring advanced topics, like quantum mechanics, relativity, and astrobiology.

Learning about the planets can supplement your knowledge of astronomy and physics. edX offers a variety of educational opportunities for learners interested in studying these topics, as well as a host of other disciplines. A boot camp can provide flexible hands-on learning for those who want to upskill quickly, while executive education courses courses are designed for busy professionals. You can also pursue a more comprehensive curriculum in a bachelor’s degree program or, for more advanced learners, a master’s degree program. Find the right learning path for you.

Explore jobs in astronomy

As you progress through your planetary studies, you may decide that you want to pursue a career that relies on your new knowledge. There are many roles that contribute to our understanding of Earth, our solar system, and exoplanets in distant space. These include:

  • Astrophysicist: Conducts research to understand the universe, including the study of planets, stars, galaxies, and cosmic phenomena.Footnote 2 

  • Remote sensing specialist: Analyzes data collected by satellites and spacecraft to study planetary surfaces, atmospheres, and geological features.Footnote 3

  • Data analyst: Processes and analyzes vast amounts of data collected from telescopes and space missions.Footnote 4

  • Astrochemist: Studies the chemical composition of celestial objects, including planets and their atmospheres.Footnote 5

  • Science policy analyst: Helps shape government decisions related to astronomy research funding, space exploration, and scientific regulations.Footnote 6

While many of these roles exist within similar industries, employment qualifications for careers that utilize knowledge of planets may differ based on the position and employer. Some roles may require a higher level degree while others may only ask for a demonstration of skills that can be acquired in a data analytics boot camp, for example. Before deciding on which learning path will work best for you, research potential roles you hope to pursue, and align your coursework with your professional aspirations.