Studies & Degrees in Space Physics

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Space Physics deals with the study and exploration of charged particles and magnetic fields in the invisible realm above and beyond the atmospheres of planets. It includes the study of the Sun's corona, the ionosphere and magnetosphere of planets, the heliosphere, and the local interstellar medium. The biggest challenge of space physics is to understand the physical concepts behind space weather and to be able to accurately predict it at some point in the future. Space Physics specialists and researchers also spread their knowledge to astrophysics, plasma physics, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics and atmospheric physics.

The development of the field of space physics was established by carrying out ground-based observations of sun-spot cycles, cosmic rays, spectacular displays of the aurora borealis, and the pointing direction of comet tails. The emergence of plasma physics and the launch of rockets and artificial satellites were further advancements that gave birth to space plasma physics. Thanks to these developments, it is now understood that solar activity and the sunspot cycle control the flow of the solar wind, which in turn modulates cosmic ray intensities, as well as energizing the magnetospheres and ionospheres of planets. What we learn from studying our Sun and the environment of the heliosphere can readily be applied to other stellar astrophysical objects and systems throughout the universe. Therefore, by studying space physics, we gain an understanding of the universe as a whole.

Personal Qualities

Space physics is an extremely demanding area to go into. For this reason, you need to be highly committed to your education, have an aptitude for sciences, and possess a patient and diligent personality. Here are some other qualities to consider:

  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Good at reading and understanding scientific texts and publications
  • Excellent research skills
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Ability to transform knowledge into more simple and accessible terms and language
  • Good problem-solving skills.

Study Options

Degrees like Space Physics, Plasma Space Physics, Astrophysics and Space Physics, and similar options are available at the bachelor’s, master’s, graduate and postgraduate level at various universities around the world. Usually requirements for entrance are very high and the screening procedure lets only the best candidates enter these programs. When choosing an institution the best thing to look for is their research facilities and resources. This is a field in which you need to make a great deal of observations and hands-on research, for which reason your chosen university needs to have the capacity to offer you these. At chosen universities, there are research experience programs available for space physics students, too. Such opportunities are usually available during the summer and offer a mixture of theoretical and experimental experiences. If you meet the criteria you could also be able to get a scholarship, and this would greatly improve your future career prospects.

Career Options

As a space physicist, you would know about space weather, the operation of communication systems, and weather satellites. Job opportunities requiring this kind of knowledge include organizations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency. Besides, a variety of physical phenomena are associated with space weather, including geomagnetic storms and ionospheric disturbances that can damage electronics onboard spacecraft and threaten the life of astronauts. The Satellite Industry Association has as over 30 major companies as members (The Boeing Company, DirectTV, Loral Space and Communications, etc.) and is another example of an organization, requiring a lot of space physicists.