Student Opportunities

Why you should study planetary science in Northern Arizona

The Northern Arizona region is home to many research opportunities for students interested in planetary science. Flagstaff, AZ is the world’s first International Dark Sky City. One of the purposes of this designation is to protect the viewing of the natural night sky, which is conducive for ground-based astronomy.

The city of Flagstaff is also the location of Lowell Observatory, Northern Arizona University, and the USGS Astrogeology Department. These institutions have excellent programs for planetary science and astronomy students. Below are some of the research opportunities available for full-time and REU students in the northern Arizona region.

Northern Arizona University

Physics & Astronomy Department
NAU students have the opportunity to learn from and work with a number of notable members of the planetary science and astronomy communities. NAU offers a combined physics and astronomy undergraduate program as well as a graduate program, and recently introduced a Ph.D. program in astronomy.

Geology Department

The northern Arizona region has a rich geological history, providing many field research projects for NAU students. Most importantly for Mars aficionados, this region was recently volcanic, making it similar to the surface of our nearest neighbor.

NAU/NASA Space Grant

NAU is a member of the Arizona Space Grant Consortium which provides funding for undergraduate research with NAU faculty or off-campus with Lowell or the USGS. Visit NAU’s Space Grant page for more information.

Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Astronomy (REU) at NAU

The REU program at NAU is an excellent way for students from other parts of the country to conduct planetary science, astrogeology, stellar astrophysics, instrumentation, extragalactic, and other projects in northern Arizona. The program runs during the summer, covers tuition and fees, and includes a stipend. Check out past students’ work and apply here.

Atmospheric Research Observatory and Barry Lutz Telescope

One of Flagstaff’s five observatories, the Atmospheric Research Observatory houses a computer-controlled 20-inch telescope. The observatory holds free public viewings every clear Friday and Saturday from 7:30 to 10 pm.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory was founded by Percival Lowell in 1894. One of the most notable discoveries which have occurred here was the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. The observatory is still active in research today, both in solar system exploration and extragalactic projects. Students frequently work alongside experienced researchers through Space Grant, REU, and other undergraduate and graduate programs. Lowell’s flagship instrument is the 4.3 meter Discovery Channel Telescope, which is available as a research telescope.

USGS Astrogeology Science Center

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center provides mission support for NASA and other space agencies. These missions include Apollo, six Mars missions, and New Horizons. The USGS also conducts research on geological and geophysical processes on rocky planets and satellites in our solar system. The USGS works with Space Grant and the NAU REU program as well as student contractors.