Planetary Geology

Bodies in our Solar System, artist's impression
An artist's montage of the worlds and objects in our solar system. Planets are not to scale. Our solar system features eight planets, and a variety of other intriguing smaller bodies such as dwarf planets, comets and asteroids.



The Planetary Geology Department studies the solid surfaces of planets, moons, and small bodies in the solar system. Geological mapping as well as morphological and spectral analyses provide a record of present-day surface properties, from which the origin and evolution of the studied landscapes and landforms can be deduced in space and time.

The morphological (e.g., shape and texture) and spectral characteristics of rock and soil surfaces reflect various endogenous and exogenous processes. In the case of endogenous processes, the main focus is on the study of magmatic and tectonic events. For exogenic processes, the interaction of rocks and soil with the atmosphere and hydrosphere (gases, water and ice; if present), exosphere and radiation is studied. A very important exogenic process is the generation and redistribution of regolith by impacts in the course of the 4.5 billion year-long history of the solar system.

For these geological studies, remote sensing data obtained by fly-by and orbiter missions (mainly by cameras, spectrometers, laser altimeters, and radar), but also in-situ measurements of stationary or mobile landed missions are analyzed. Terrestrial field studies provide valuable analogue observations. Planetary geology benefits from links to planetary geophysics, mineralogy, and - especially for the planets Mars and Venus - climate and atmospheric science.

The ultimate goal is to understand the geological evolution of planetary bodies from their formation to the present day. This understanding helps to gain information about the early Earth, of whose geological past hardly any traces are preserved today. In this context, assessing the potential habitability of these bodies also plays an increasingly important role.

Key Competences of the Department

  • Morphological, spectral, and photometric analysis of remote sensing data.
  • End-to-end operations of deep-space instruments from observation planning to final data archiving.
  • Cartographic communication, spatial databases and re-use of research data.
  • Field work in terrestrial analogue environments: geological and technical studies.

Mission Contributions of the Department



Dr. Ganna Portyankina

Department Head
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institut of Planetary Research
Department Planetary Geology
Rutherfordstraße 2, 12489 Berlin