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PhD Position from Interior to Orbit: Evolution of Outer Solar System Moons

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

Delft, Netherlands
Posted on Thursday, November 9, 2023

From interior to orbit: evolution of outer solar system moons    

Job description

The surfaces of the outer solar system moons look strikingly different. Io’s surface is doted by active volcanoes; Europa’s is crisscrossed by cracks and ridges; and Enceladus’ southern hemisphere has prominent cracks from which water plumes emanate. In contrast, other moons (e.g., Callisto, Mimas) are heavily cratered. This diversity evidence different evolutionary pathways.

The evolution of the moons is shaped by the interplay between their interior and orbital dynamics. The exchange of energy between a planet and their moons via tidal and orbital interactions drives the interior evolution, which in turn is reflected in the moons’ surface characteristics. Recent discoveries challenge some of the main assumptions often invoked when studying the interior-orbital evolution of such systems. The fast orbital migration of Titan, measured by optical and radiometric data from Cassini, evidences that classic gas giant models are too simplistic; advances in material sciences show that current rheology models do not capture the complex behaviour of rock and ice; and recent theoretical work suggests that ocean tides in subsurface oceans, always ignored, can dramatically alter the evolution of icy worlds. In this project, you will apply state-of-the-art interior models for both gas/ice giants and their moons to examine the impact of these paradigm shifting discoveries on the evolution of the moons.

The project builds on the group’s expertise in interior and orbital mechanics of giant planet satellites. Models to simulate the tidal response of icy and rocky moons and their orbital evolution are available within the group. You will integrate and further develop these tools to build a completely new interior-orbital evolution model. The results will allow addressing outstanding questions about the evolution of outer solar system moons but will be also relevant for our understanding of the dynamics of exoplanetary systems such as TRAPPIST-1. In preparation for the Europa Clipper and JUICE missions, special emphasis will be placed on the Jovian system, and the potential to use results of these missions to place further constraints on evolutionary pathways of the satellites.


  • Obtained or soon to be obtain MSc degree (or an equivalent degree which allows you to start a PhD) in physics, mathematics, earth or planetary sciences, or a closely related field.
  • Strong background in numerical modelling.
  • Proficient in English. For information please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.
  • Prior knowledge of interior dynamics, solar system evolution and astrodynamics is preferred.
  • Experience in Python/Matlab is welcomed.

Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.

Conditions of employment

Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2770 per month in the first year to € 3539 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged.

For international applicants, TU Delft has the Coming to Delft Service. This service provides information for new international employees to help you prepare the relocation and to settle in the Netherlands. The Coming to Delft Service offers a Dual Career Programme for partners and they organise events to expand your (social) network.

TU Delft (Delft University of Technology)

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core values and we actively engage to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.


Challenge. Change. Impact!

Faculty Aerospace Engineering

The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology is one of the world’s most highly ranked (and most comprehensive) research, education and innovation communities devoted entirely to aerospace engineering. More than 200 science staff, around 270 PhD candidates and close to 3000 BSc and MSc students apply aerospace engineering disciplines to address the global societal challenges that threaten us today, climate change without doubt being the most important. Our focal subjects: sustainable aerospace, big data and artificial intelligence, bio-inspired engineering and smart instruments and systems. Working at the faculty means working together. With partners in other faculties, knowledge institutes, governments and industry, both aerospace and non-aerospace. Working in field labs and innovation hubs on our university campus and beyond.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering.

Additional information

For more information about this vacancy, please contact Marc Rovira Navarro,  

Application procedure

Are you interested in this vacancy? Please apply no lather than January 14, 2024 via the application button and upload:

  • A cover letter and contact information for two references.
  • A CV.
  • A list of grades from the last obtained degree.


  • A pre-employment screening can be part of the selection procedure.
  • You can apply online. We will not process applications sent by email and/or post.
  • Please do not contact us for unsolicited services.