Planetary Astronomer

Posted on
Current state: Approved and Notify DPS Secretary
Department: Carl Sagan Center
City: Mountain View
State/Province: CA
Country: USA
Institution: SETI Institute
Application Due Date: Wednesday, January 05 2022
Web Link:


Position Title:                                                     Planetary Astronomer

FLSA Status:                                                       Full-Time, Exempt

Reports to:                                                           PDS Node Manager

Location:                                                              Mountain View, CA         

The SETI Institute is seeking a Planetary Astronomer to support the work of the Ring-Moon Systems Node (RMS) of NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS). The successful applicant will be an integral part of the RMS Node Team, which shares responsibility for archiving, augmenting, cataloging, and distributing key data sets from NASA’s missions to the outer planets. The PDS ensures that the entire community of planetary scientists has seamless access to NASA’s archive of planetary data. The RMS Node’s primary focus is on data sets relevant to planetary systems in the outer solar system, including the rings and moons of the outer planets, atmospheric research, and astrogeology. Our flagship service is the Outer Planets Unified Search (OPUS), which provides powerful and effective cross-mission, cross-target, faceted search based on accurate and consistent metadata and informative browse products.

The astronomer will focus primarily on expanding the coverage of OPUS to support additional data sets, including those from Galileo, New Horizons, Juno, and the Hubble Space Telescope.  This challenging and rewarding role, which provides an important service to the planetary research community, requires both experience working with planetary data and skill at programming in Python, as well as familiarity with the SPICE toolkit.

Additionally, the astronomer will develop data processing pipelines to convert data sets currently archived with PDS into the more modern “PDS4” standard.  Data sets for this task include Cassini UVIS, Cassini CIRS, and Voyager ISS.

Full-time funding from PDS is available for this role, but may be decreased to as low as half-time if the successful applicant prefers to work fewer hours or maintain partial salary funding from other projects.  Indeed, the astronomer will be encouraged to seek additional research funding on any topic of their choosing including, but not limited to, topics related to the Node’s extensive data holdings.

The position offers exposure to a wide variety of NASA missions, remote-sensing instruments, and types of scientific data, as well as the opportunity to learn many technical skills. The successful applicant can expect extensive mentoring from existing team members so that they can be successful in this role as well as grow their career in exciting new directions.


  • Understand and characterize the data and metadata associated with specific data sets that are targeted for incorporation into OPUS.
  • In cooperation with other team members, define the relationships between the targeted data set’s metadata and existing OPUS search terms, determining whether any modification in the latter is needed.
  • Develop new software and use existing Python-based and SPICE-based tools to construct a software pipeline that integrates the selected data set into OPUS.
  • Develop data processing pipelines to validate existing data and metadata, and convert it into the new, modern “PDS4” standard.
  • Participate in team discussions about the latest results in planetary astronomy and related fields.


  • Experience with computer programming for scientific applications is required. Proficiency with the Python programming language is mandatory.
  • Familiarity with the SPICE toolkit is strongly desired.
  • Experience in scientific data analysis and in writing research papers for peer review is strongly desired.
  • A Ph.D. or equivalent career experience is preferred, but candidates will be considered with a bachelor’s or master’s degree with substantial research experience in planetary astronomy, astrophysics, physics, or a closely related field. 
  • A personal and demonstrable scientific interest in planetary systems is highly desirable.
  • Must be detail-oriented, proactive, and flexible.
  • Should have the initiative to work independently and as a team player.

Apply here:

Salary/Benefits: The SETI Institute provides competitive salary, excellent benefits including health/dental/vision insurance, a flexible spending account for medical and dependent care, vacation, and sick leave. The Institute sponsors a retirement plan option upon fulfillment of eligibility.

Diversity and Equity

All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.

The SETI Institute is an Affirmative Action Employer and members of underrepresented communities and demographics are particularly encouraged to apply, including women, people of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities.

Employment Details:

It is strongly preferred that applicants be prepared to establish residence in the San Francisco Bay Area by Spring 2022.  The position is based in Mountain View, California.  Applicants who cannot relocate will be considered, but this should be stated clearly in the application’s cover letter.