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Planetary Sciences: From Solar System Worlds to the Exoplanet Expanses: Interdisciplinary Research Tips

This research guide combines information resources and guidance about using them from astronomy and the geosciences, with the goal of being a one-stop place for Yale researchers.

Searching in Databases

GeoRef (linked above) is a geosciences resource that covers the geology of North America from 1666-present and worldwide coverage from 1933-present. The database also covers publications on planetary science from the 20th century once space expeditions began providing deep opportunities for geological study of other bodies in the solar system at close range. The collection also includes doctoral dissertations and many masters' theses from the US and Canada. One of GeoRef's core strengths is how well it can locate accurate information about things that are not digital or that have been cited in online publications inaccurately.

The advanced search page on GeoScienceWorld is the best place to take advantage of GeoRef's searching capabilities. The GeoScienceWorld platform is much more expansive, though — it is the hosting site for publications from many societies and institutes in the geosciences, so unless you only want GeoRef records, there is no reason to exclude the other content types (full-text journal articles, books, and book chapters in the check boxes at the top of the advanced search page).

The advanced search lets us pick from among a variety of fields, and we can use these to have more control over what we see in the search results than a search in Articles+ or Google Scholar. For example, we can search for Mars as a Keyword/GeoRef descriptor and canyon somewhere within the abstract. Mars has a keyword/descriptor because it has been studied for a long time; if we tried this with Europa, we wouldn't have luck even though GeoRef does have some planetary science content about the moon. Instead, for that search, we would set Europa and water as things that must be in the abstract. (The term Europa is ambiguous in the abstract field because that is also a spelling variant of Europe.) 

The screenshot below shows the search that we have set up for Mars as a Keyword/GeoRef descriptor and canyon in the abstract.

The advanced search screen on GeoScienceWorld. We are searching for journal articles, books, GeoRef records, and other types of materials related to Mars and canyons.

The dropdown menu to the left of the boxes contain many options, including: 

  • Abstract
  • Affiliation
  • All
  • Authors
  • Book Series
  • DOI
  • Full Text (less useful for GeoRef records, as most are abstract-only; more useful for searching the full-text content on GeoScienceWorld)
  • ISBN
  • ISSN
  • Issue
  • Keyword (GeoRef Descriptor)
  • Meeting information
  • Report #
  • Title
  • Volume

The results below are mostly GeoRef records, but there are a handful of full-text journal articles (items hosted on the GeoRef platform). Most of the GeoRef items are like the one highlighted in the record — they show a bit of data about the item and a link to the full text, if it exists.

Search results for the Mars canyon search.

Sometimes those full text links will lead to our access, but at other times, you will need to visit the record itself. Most GeoRef records are very long, with many fields — this is a major reason why it makes older print publications much easier to find than they would otherwise be. However, the Yale Links button is located at the very bottom. Use CTRL (or CMD on a Mac) + down arrow to instantly go to the bottom of the page.

The Yale Links button is at the very bottom of a GeoScienceWorld entry.

A few of the results are things that are within the GeoScienceWorld full-text offerings, which come from a few different society publishers. They will have links to the full text right in the search results.

There are many more options on the results page when it's something in the GeoScienceWorld non-GeoRef holdings.

So that's that search. Our search for Europa and water in the abstract surfaces many more articles, but a subset of them are false positives due to what was mentioned above about the terminology issue. One way of mitigating this would be to add the word moon to Europa, as it will often be in the abstract, too. But let's keep this simple.

Search results for Europa AND water in the abstract


There are a few full-text article shown prominently, but still, most of the results are GeoRef records. You can follow the same process mentioned above — use the hyperlink if that leads you to the full text, and if not, navigate to Yale Links.

Sometimes, things haven't been digitized and are only available in print.

There are a few items that do not have hyperlinks and which come from the US government, but many of those are digitized. A Google search will help you find those.

ADS (Astrophysics Data System) is a database that covers astronomy, cosmology, and some physics disciplines, operated as a collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and NASA. The abstract database contains over 15 million records. It indexes the arXiv, and its advanced search options can make searches of the arXiv more precise even if there is a slight lag in when papers get loaded. ADS has also undertaken a digitization project for observatory notebooks and older astronomy materials so they are available for scholarly engagement and citation.

The ADS is free for anyone to search, although readers do need library access from publishers or aggregators to view the full text of most materials. If you find yourself paywalled (asked to pay) for an article or resource, please check our Journals A-Z list and/or search in the catalog for the journal or publication name to see if we have an alternative location for online or print access.

The major areas of overlap with planetary sciences are in solar system research and exoplanets. Many exoplanet researchers publish in astronomy journals, and it depends on the background and preferences of the research team in solar system research as to whether they decide to publish in a geosciences or astronomy journal.

ADS homepage

Right on the homepage, ADS provides information about how to do advanced searching. More information is available on the ADS help page under the “Making a Query” heading. [screenshot of main page] Let's do a search for abs:"chaos terrain" =body:"europa". This search is very specific — we are looking in the abstract for the term chaos terrain and specifying that we want the ADS to have identified the body of interest as Europa. ADS has very good automatic processing of objects, although no automated system is perfect.

Search results screen, with some circles around the search query text box and the button options for exporting and exploring the results.

Clicking on any of the titles will take you to the full record information about the result. I have also circled the Export and Explore buttons to the far left. Explore gives you options for viewing things like citation metrics, author and paper networks, concept clouds, and co-reads. Export provides methods for pulling these results into a citation management tool or .bib file.

Word cloud of terms based on our search results

The concept cloud in the Explore drop-down is based on unique and frequent words. We can click on any of the terms to narrow our results to papers that only mention a specific word here. I have decided to filter down to papers that mention melt, so I can click on that word and then Apply Filter to Search to modify my results. I then see a narrower set.

View of an individual record, in this case one of an article

Clicking on a record — for this example, on “Ocean-Driven Heating of Europa’s Icy Shell at Low Latitudes” by Soderlund et al., published in Nature Geoscience — lets me view the full text sources and DOI (both clickable). I can use the left-hand panel to view the citations, references, similar papers, metrics, and other available data about the paper.

The similar papers feature does not take our search into account, and it will combine various elements of the paper to show us what is similar. For example, because this paper is about ocean-driven heating, it is possible that someone is interested in compositional convection and other interior dynamics in general, so the suggested papers include ones about Uranus’ deep interior in addition to papers about Europa’s ice shell thickness and interior.

ProQuest’s Natural Science Collection, as mentioned above, is a unified place to search many subcollections. You can also search a subcollection (like the Meteorological and Geoastrophysical Abstracts) on your own if you decide that using a narrower database will benefit you more — what you do is personal preference, informed by your tolerance of extraneous results.

There is a robust advanced search option (next to the Basic Search with the underline beneath it, you can click on “Advanced Search” and be taken to a different search box layout). The Advanced Search gives you many, many options for customizing a query, and it is useful if you are trying to locate something specific or if you see too many irrelevant results and want a lot of control over your query.

Useful options in the Advanced Search include:

  • Anywhere except full text – NOFT
  • Abstract – ABSTRACT
  • All abstract & summary text – SUMMARY
  • Monograph title – MT (note: “monograph” is the jargon term for a scholarly book, either alone or in a book series)
  • Publication title – PUBLICATION

You can also search for conference names, author affiliations, and other types of information.

We will go back to the Basic Search to do the initial demonstration, which is what most people do when they first visit this platform.

ProQuest Natural Science Collection main search box

Let’s search for what we have been looking for elsewhere, "chaos terrain" AND "Europa". I put quotation marks around Europa here because I am worried about word stemming in ProQuest databases, as I know they can contain content about politics (the term “Europa” sometimes comes up when people talk about European politics and recent historical events).

Results screen. Note where the citation and item export tools are for each record.

On the results screen, there are options for citing, emailing, and collecting each document. Items that are open access (free to read for anyone) have an orange unlocked key symbol attached to them.

Many of the items in ProQuest’s various databases are full text, as ProQuest is a combination abstract database and full text reading tool. None of the items in the first few results are things we don’t have on the ProQuest site, so let’s take a look at the results slightly farther down on the first page.

Items not in the ProQuest database have a Yale Links button below the item information.

The familiar Yale Links button is present for individual records that are not in ProQuest. They will show the Yale Links button at the bottom of the item information in the search results.

ProQuest has added many clickable features to individual item records to enhance digital serendipity.

Individual item records have some interesting features, like clickable keywords, itemized reference lists, and noteworthy documents with shared references (when ProQuest has the full text). There are also automatically-generated suggested sources in the right sidebar.

How Do I Pick Where to Search?

Whether you need a scholarly search engine (like Google Scholar or Semantic Scholar) or a library database depends on a variety of factors.

  • Library databases are often tailored to a specific field or subfield. The metadata search options you have are often tailored to what the research is — for example, ProQuest does "deep indexing" in some focus areas in its collections. This makes a database ideal for doing deep dives into a topic within a well-constrained field.
  • Library databases mix the analog and digital together. Google Scholar and Semantic Scholar can't actually see information about references that haven't been digitized — and not everything is online. GeoRef, for example, contains abstracts for thousands of articles from before midcentury that are not available online and for which citation information can be hard to find.
  • Scholarly search engines have more breadth. This means that it's easier to find rarer or less well-known articles than in scholarly databases.
  • Scholarly search engines rely on the same skills that people use when searching in Google and other search engines, so there is less of a learning curve.
  • Scholarly search engines rely on machines, not on people, to harvest information about scholarly works. This contributes to how much breadth they have, but it also creates embarrassing errors that happen less often in databases. For example, a search engine may misidentify social media links on a journal page as author names or get the article year/title wrong, making it harder to find something. They also cannot tell the difference between fake and real journal articles — scholarly article mills are a huge problem online.
  • Library databases have quality control. While they have some automated ingest, human beings are involved in the process — this is why we pay for the information.

Now, what's the difference between these various databases? ADS and GeoRef are abstract databases, and ProQuest's Natural Science Collection is a database that contains a blend of abstracts and full-text content. An abstract database does not necessarily contain the full text, but if we subscribe to something online, it will link out to where you need to go. As mentioned in the bulleted list, abstract databases index print resources in addition to online ones — especially those journals, books, and other documents that may not have been digitized.

Usually, abstract databases will include a Yale Links button to help you find an electronic copy from the library. You may also need to search the catalog for the item or use interlibrary loan if (a) an item hasn't been digitized or (b) it's not held in our collections.

If you have incomplete information about an older book from a citation, an abstract database is a great place to go to find the rest of the citation so you can search the library catalog or request the item through our interlibrary loan services. Librarians and interlibrary loan fulfillment staff use abstract databases all of the time to help you when citation information is incomplete.

The best specialized database to use is the one that contains the information you want. You can find this information in its description — the landing page of a database will define its scope. Have a few test searches handy so you can compare a database you haven't used before to the ones you're already familiar with using.

Features for Looking Up People and Groups

While a lot of papers appear in Google Scholar, the Web of Science (Clarivate Analytics) or Astrophysics Data System (ADS) are the best places to go if you want to:

  • Analyze articles' citation performance by author.
  • View the research performance of a department (usually best done by searching on addresses + institutions).
  • Discover which papers are associated with a particular grant.
  • View a two-way citation tree — or, papers cited by a paper plus papers citing a paper.

If you want metrics about social impact, Scopus is often better — if an article has been shared frequently on social media, Scopus will have a page devoted to that. It also disambiguates authors via its author search (but for very common names, it can get difficult and inaccurate, so please claim your author page if you publish).

The Journal Citation Reports (by Clarivate Analytics) will help you determine the performance of your journal articles — and find places where you can submit new papers. Disciplines are often one of the categories. (If this tells you we don't have access, just refresh the page.)