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Planetary Sciences: From Solar System Worlds to the Exoplanet Expanses: Using Quicksearch for Planetary Sciences Research

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.

Call Numbers and Subject Headings

The main search box on the library website is a tool called Quicksearch. It combines results from several library catalogs, in addition to many of our online holdings and archival materials (both print and digital). A general search for something like ice moons will display results across the library catalog — in archives, audio, books, dissertations, journals/magazine articles, and so on. 

Chaos terrain Europa search in Quicksearch shows a number of results.

The page you arrive at after doing a search, in this case for chaos terrain Europa, are primarily limited to books, dissertations, and serial publications (journals, newspapers, and magazines). Usually, results about Europa's chaos terrain use chaos terrain as a jargon term, but some results may vary the terminology a bit — a search for "chaos terrain" Europa eliminates the book results even though there are several books about the geology of the outer solar system moons in our collection.

One complication with the general search without quotation marks, though, is the number of false positives that are covering Europe-related politics, as some of them (especially in other languages) refer to Europe as Europa. This is very obvious if we click on Books+ (just below the search box at the top; it shows everything in our Orbis and Morris catalogs; it's different from clicking on the Books result panel). 

Difference between Books+ and the Books link in the search results

We can get around this problem in several ways. The first way is to narrow down the results by adding the word moon to the search. This chaos terrain Europa moon search reduces the results in Books+ to a very small number, most of them about planetary bodies, a few about Greek mythology.

The second way to improve our results is to use subject terms. The first result, Europa: The Ocean Moon Search for an Alien Biosphere by Richard Greenberg, is a possible gateway to the best terms to use. Until you know the terms in an area, I suggest starting with a search and using an item record to refine what you want. In the case of planetary sciences, which is still defining its scope (planetary geology? exoplanet atmospheres and theory about their composition? anything else?), the subject terms can be a bit mercurial and may not always surface everything. So: Play around with your subject term clicking/browsing the same way you might browse a bookshelf.

The record for Europa shows us a lot of information, and it explains why some of the other books are in the results set — our search will match anything that is listed in the table of contents, if a table of contents is available in the record (not all have that). Towards the bottom of the record is a list of subjects. The subjects for this book are:

  • Physical geography
  • Exobiology
  • Astrophysics

Europa (Moon) is not currently a subject heading in Library of Congress. However, after doing a search on the Library of Congress website, it seems that Europa (satellite) is. I can do a fresh search in the box at the top of the screen for Europa satellite and make sure that the drop-down list reads Subject.

The subject search using the box at the top of the page. I am searching for Europa satellite.

This shows me a limited number of results, most of them related to Europa (and specifically the US government strategies for exploring Europa while reducing the risk of microbial contamination). The book Europa, written in collaboration with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, contains only two subjects:

  • Europa (Satellite)
  • Europa (Satellite) > Geology

The second subject term shows a hierarchical relationship between Geology and Europa (Satellite) — here, Geology is a subset. Clicking on that will only show a few results because the item record subject terms link to the subject term within the hierarchy. The search box at the top of the page, when the subject parameter is used in the drop-down menu, is hierarchy-agnostic and searches for a subject anywhere. The same goes for the advanced search — it is hierarchy-agnostic.

In this case, though, we aren't seeing everything about Europa. There is a book called Ice Worlds of the Solar System that contains information on Europa and other natural satellites. Its subject terms are:

  • Astronomy
  • Planetary science
  • Planetology
  • Astrobiology

and it doesn't mention Europa by name in its table of contents or summary. Europa is put in conversation with other moons here, especially in the chapter "Sea Worlds" — with two sections on Europa. This would never have come up in our search for Europa.

The advanced search is one way that we can improve results. I can search for Jupiter moons in All Fields, use an OR operator between that and the Subject Europa satellite, and do the search.

Advanced search for Jupiter Moons in all fields and Europa satellite in the subject

From the search results, I can narrow down to specific subjects using the left-hand filters to explore what I am seeing. In many records, there will be information about the table of contents; if not, I can always check Amazon or Google Books.

Call numbers are another useful feature. For example, one book about Europa has the call number QB404. This means that its subject is QB, astronomy; its specific subject is number 404. We can use the Books+ search box's options to search for the call number. All of the results are about Jovian satellites.

Call number searching can be done via the box at the top of the page, too. This is the search for QB404

However, there are some limitations with call number searching. First, call numbers are not currently assigned to online books, so you will only be viewing our print holdings. Second, technical reports about NASA missions are likely located in a different call number region.

So, what is recommended? The serendipity provided by clicking around in the catalog when you are doing a literature search can open up many new avenues for research when you come across something unexpected. This brief tutorial has highlighted some of the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches, with the goal of giving you a mental map of what to expect on the library website during your research process.

We also have a number of geologic maps of Mars and other planets. A customized Quicksearch results page has been created here that sets the format facet to "Maps & GIS" and the Subject (Region) to Mars (Planet). The maps in this search result set have been continuously updated, and they can be retrieved and viewed in the Marx Library map room. Email for more information. Several other planetary bodies have maps that are in our collections. We recommend doing a search for the name of the celestial body you want first. Then, filter to Maps & GIS and add the Subject (Region) filter using the facets.

What's in Articles+?

Articles+ contains about 80% of our online resources — except for some things in specialized databases that don't talk to the service we use. There are two ways to access it.

First, Articles+ is integrated into Quicksearch. When you do a search from the main library website — say, for planetary formation composition — you come to a results screen that includes several components from Articles+. The Journal & Magazine Articles section and the Dissertations & Theses results preview boxes are both pulling from facets within Articles+. There are additional left-sidebar items like Newspaper Articles that are also pulling from Articles+.

Clicking on any one of these headers will take you to Articles+ with the filter active that limits to the result type in question. There is also a direct way to get to Articles+, and that is by using its database record. You can look it up in the Databases under the Find, Request, and Use top menu item on or bookmark the link below.

If you enter the Articles+ interface from Quicksearch, you can always remove the filters if you want or add some additional item types. Books and book chapters, for example, will elevate results from ebooks that compile articles together from multiple authors. Searching in book reviews can help you decide on whether a scholarly work is worth reading.

The results screen has a few features that are worth taking a closer look at.

The Articles+ results screen for a search for planetary formation composition. The Quick Look box for the first record has been selected, and the screenshot shows visually where the subject terms and full text links are located.

First, the Quick Look button will show you the abstract and subjects (assigned by the journal, the authors, or the database that Articles+ is pulling from) for each article. This can be helpful for refining search terms, especially if you know that you want to read this piece. Second, both the Quick Look area and the item in the results have a Full Text Online link.

As mentioned in the box about subject headings and call numbers, serendipitous searching happens when you try out a few search terms and use the results to strategize where to go next. The video below goes through a few more tips on searching in Articles+ from either Quicksearch or on its own.


Dissertations contain cutting-edge research and are the capstone project for a Ph.D. program. They are excellent places to locate information about new research or under-researched topics.

The best way to search for dissertations in general is to use the box in the Quicksearch results. The image below shows an example of what this looks like for a search on planetary formation composition. Clicking on the header icon or the results count will take you to the Articles+ interface with the Dissertations & Theses filter. There's also a button right below the results.

Dissertations and Theses results set in Quicksearch is a gateway to looking at dissertations from all over.

The best way to search for dissertations that have a specific author is to search either ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global (which has a North American bias) or the university catalog at the institution the person graduated from. Either will help you locate whether or not full text exists, and you can be a bit more precise in those tools than you can be in Articles+.

Let's talk a bit more about the Articles+ Dissertations filter, though.

The screenshot above shows over 10,000 dissertation results. Most of the results in Articles+ are actually relevant, except for a few literature dissertations with creative titles. We used a very general search, and the high result count proves the point about how dissertations are niche — we need to get much more specific to get useful results.

What if we actually wanted to know a bit more about planetary formation and iron cores? A search like "planetary formation" AND "iron core" will increase our likelihood of success, and Articles+ supports Boolean searching. This dramatically reduces the results — we see immediately something about iron core formation, and there's an interesting-looking dissertation about "superdense exposed exoplanet cores."