A planetary geologist investigates the structure, processes and composition of planetary bodies in the solar system. He uses geological knowledge gathered on Earth to study and hypothesize about geological processes occurring elsewhere in space. He also uses knowledge gleaned from other planets to address geological issues on Earth. Primarily a laboratory-based position, a planetary geologist often uses data returned by spacecraft and compares it with terrestrial samples. His salary compares with other professionals in the geoscientific sphere.
In its occupational employment and wages handbook published in May 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics listed mean salary levels for professions in America. A planetary geologist, as a geoscientist, received an average pay packet of $92,710. This equates to a figure per hour of $44.57. The lowest-earning 10 percent of individuals in the field received $43,140 per year or $20.74 an hour, while those in the top bracket of earners gained $161,260 annually or $77.53 per hour.
Salary by Industry
A planetary geologist may find employment opportunities in both the public and private spheres. However, salary levels between and within these classifications are far from uniform. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, for example, that a planetary geologist working for the federal government earns more than an individual employed at state government level -- $94,560 compared to $62,550. Furthermore, those employed by companies whose primary focus is oil and gas extraction pay an average of $136,270 per year, while consulting firms, who advise industries and government agencies of management, scientific and technical matters paid an average of $73,920 as of May 2009.
Salary by Location
While a planetary geologist investigates celestial bodies, the location from which he performs his research on Earth can affect the salary he achieves. The May 2009 survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Texas as the best-paying state for a geoscientist, averaging $127,250. The District of Columbia and Alaska fill the second and third places with average pay listed at $107,160 and $104,410, respectively. Wyoming was among the lower reaches of the pay scale, listed as offering geoscientists average salaries of $69,360.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for geoscientists, such as planetary geologists, will increase by as much as 18 percent in the decade spanning 2008 to 2018. When compared to the expected national growth rate for all professions -- somewhere between 7 and 13 percent -- the situation looks very favorable for planetary geologists to continue achieving good remuneration levels in the immediate future, particularly because the BLS expects there to be more vacant positions in the field than there are qualified professionals to fill them.