A planetary geologist effectively carries out a dialogue between the geological processes on earth and those on other bodies in space. He uses scientific techniques and learning accrued on Earth to make conclusions about similar processes on celestial bodies, and seeks to apply understanding of those bodies to geological processes back on earth. A planetary geologist may specialize in discovering how planets and their satellites are formed, how they evolve and how they die. He may study volcanoes and fluvial plains, which may help us understand volcanic and flood activity on Earth a little better.
In May 2009 the Bureau of Labor Statistics published its latest figures detailing occupations throughout America. It placed the mean annual salary for a geoscientist--a classification that includes planetary geologists--at $92,710. This equates to a monthly income of $7,726 and an hourly pay rate of $44.57. A planetary geologist may also earn money additional to his basic salary depending upon the conditions of his contract. These augmentations may include pension provision and health insurance.
Earnings by Employer
The amount of money that a planetary geologist makes in a year will depend upon the nature of his employer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that geoscientific positions with private companies involved in petroleum and those focused on oil and gas extraction offered the best wages--$139,740 and $136,270 respectively. By contrast, government agencies paid considerably less. Federal government agencies offered a mean annual salary of $94,560 while their state counterparts were listed at $62,550.
Earnings by Location
A second element of a planetary geologist's employment, which may affect how much he makes in a year, is geographical location. On a state level, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks Texas, the District of Columbia and Alaska as the best-paying locations for geoscoientists to work in, offering $127,250, $107,160 and $104,410 per year respectively. The top three locations on the metropolitan scale are all in Texas--Midland is listed at $142,250, the Houston, Sugar Land, Baytown area at $138,370, and Corpus Christi at $123,810.
As a profession included within the classification of geoscientists by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, planetary geologists have a bright future, at least in the short term, when it comes to the job market. The BLS estimates that demand for geoscientists will grow by around 18 percent in the decade between 2008 and 2018. As such, they should continue to receive competitive rates of pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that moving into consultancy work (particularly because the federal government is increasingly contracting outside consulting firms) may prove the most lucrative career path.