Astronomer Job Description
Astronomers use both ground based equipment (such as optical telescopes) and space-based equipment (such as the Hubble Space Telescope) to make observations and collect data about space.
Because space is so vast, most astronomers choose to specialize. For example, some astronomers study distant phenomena like black holes, while others spend their entire careers trying to increase the understanding of objects in our own solar system.
Many astronomers work with the sole aim of improving scientific knowledge. They want to perform research that will inform scientific theories, so that we can better explain the universe.
Other astronomers do applied research, where they use their knowledge of astronomy to develop new devices and practical applications. As an example of applied research, astronomers worked on the satellite radio projects that allow us to stream music and other entertainment from space. They also assisted with various GPS products that have helped make our lives easier.
If you enjoy math and want to have a career that has an infinite amount of data for you to explore, then working as an astronomer might be right for you.
Work Environment and Schedule
Most astronomers are employed by colleges and universities. There are also opportunities for employment in the federal government (primarily with NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense). The research and development industry also provides many opportunities.
In general, astronomers spend most of their time working in an office environment. Sometimes, they may need to spend considerable hours in observatories where they can gather data by looking through telescopes — but the internet has made it possible for astronomers to do a lot of their observation work remotely.
Most astronomers work full time, and sometimes have to work irregular hours. Since space is best observable at night, working at night is sometimes necessary.
How to Become and Astronomer
You will need to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy to work as an astronomer.
Ph.D. programs are extremely math intensive. If you’re still in high school and you think that a career as an astronomer might be interesting, you can start preparing yourself now by taking as many math courses as you can. Computer science courses can also be very beneficial, as some astronomers use and bild modeling software that helps them gather and analyze data.
There are only forty schools that offer doctorate degrees in astronomy, so getting in can be competitive.
To prepare yourself, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics or astronomy. In most cases, a degree in physics will better prepare you for your graduate work. The laws of physics rule the universe, and a strong background in the field will make graduate school much easier.
After earning a Ph.D., many graduates start their careers by working in temporary research positions. These positions normally last between 2-3 years, and provide graduates with the opportunity to work with experienced scientists in their area of specialty.
These research positions can be very valuable. Not only do they provide the work experience that you will need to get a job in the field, they also help you make great personal connections with other professionals.
There are currently 2,200 astronomers in the United States, with 90 new astronomer job openings created each year.
Astronomer jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.
Astronomer salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most astronomers make between $61,000 – $143,300 per year, or $29.34 – $68.91 per hour.