Research course

Comets and Asteroids

Open University · School of Physical Sciences

Entry requirements

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

Months of entry


Course content

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 processes on the physical and dynamical evolution of small asteroids. Laboratory simulations include the evolution of dusty ice cometary analogue surfaces and the effects of impacts on asteroids. Postgraduate students are involved in all aspects of these studies.

Potential research projects

  • Breaking rocks; Asteroid regolith production through thermal cycling
  • Investigation of cometary chemistry using data from the rosetta legacy
  • Thermal and physical properties of comets - laboratory simulations and Rosetta MUPUS results
  • 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.

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

Projects currently on offer may be found here.

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 Axel Hagermann - Senior Lecturer - Laboratory studies of cometary ices and thermal modelling
  • Dr Manish Patel - Senior Lecturer - Laboratory impact studies
  • Dr Ben Rozitis - Royal Astronomical Society Fellow - Asteroid thermal modelling
  • Dr Colin Snodgrass - Ernest Rutherford Research Fellow - Comet and asteroid observations
  • Professor Ian Wright - Professor of Planetary Sciences - Composition and origin of comets

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • PhD
    full time
    48 months
      part time
      72 months
      • MPhil
        part time
        24 months
          full time
          15 months

          Course contact details

          Administrative support

          +44 (0)1908 858253