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Comets and asteroids

Study comets and asteroids with the Open University

Asteroids and comets are the residual material left from the formation of planets in the inner and outer Solar System respectively. Unlike the planets, many retain material relatively unaltered since their formation 4.6 billion years ago. Their current dynamical and physical properties provide information on their formation and evolution. Our group in the School of Physical Sciences has developed instrumentation for a number of comet missions including Giotto, Stardust and Rosetta, and we are currently involved in the Hayabusa 2 and OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return missions. We use a range of ground- and space-based telescopes to study the properties of the nuclei and dust production of comets as well as physical properties of asteroids. Our world-leading Advanced Thermophysical Model provides insight into the importance of thermal processing of small Solar System bodies. Postgraduate students are involved in all aspects of these studies.

Qualifications available:

PhD or MPhil


For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) in a physical science subject

Potential research projects

  • Investigation of cometary chemistry using data from the Rosetta legacy
  • Physical and chemical properties of asteroid mission targets

Projects can involve a combination of ground and space-based observations, space mission data analysis, laboratory work, computer modelling or simulation.

Specific project details to be offered for 2019 start will be listed here.

Current/recent research projects

  • In-situ measurements of cometary dust
  • Physical properties of cometary nucleus analogues for Rosetta
  • The shapes of primordial asteroids
  • Asteroid properties from SuperWASP light curves
  • Observing Rosetta's comet - the ground-based campaign
  • Impact and heat processing of Mars' moon Phobos

Potential supervisors

  • Dr Ian Franchi - Senior Research Fellow - Asteroid sample Return missions
  • Dr Simon Green - Professor of Planetary and Space Science - Asteroid and cometary dust observations and mission studies
  • Dr Manish Patel - Senior Lecturer - Laboratory impact studies
  • Dr Ben Rozitis - Royal Astronomical Society Fellow - Asteroid thermal modelling
  • Professor Ian Wright - Professor of Planetary Sciences - Composition and origin of comets

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 858253

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under 'Your Questions' on the right of the page.