How to Become an Astronomer

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Astronomy is an important field that deals with the scientific study of the universe and all of its celestial objects. Trained professionals are required to examine and make observations of astronomical events. Astronomers contribute to many important discoveries and events.

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What does an astronomer do?

Astronomers use mathematics and physics principles to learn about the universe’s basic nature, including the sun, stars, moon, galaxies, and planets. They use their knowledge to solve space flight, navigation, and satellite communications problems. They also create techniques and instruments to observe and collect data on astronomy. Astronomers conduct a great deal of research to examine and develop theories to explain physical and celestial phenomena. They often make observations by using many different types of ground-based telescopes.

Some astronomers are theoreticians and they work on the laws that govern the structure and development of astronomical objects. Other astronomers examine large amounts of data that was collected by satellites and observatories. Most astronomers compose reports or scientific papers to document their findings.

What kind of training does an astronomer need?

Astronomers usually have a doctoral degree in astronomy because majority of jobs are in research and development. Master degrees are sufficient for some applied research and development positions. Most individuals who have bachelor and master degrees in astronomy work in other fields. Many students begin with an undergraduate degree in astronomy to prepare themselves for a doctorate degree. Approximately 80 universities offer programs in astronomy. Many astronomy departments are combined with physics departments. Most programs focus on rigorous training in methodology, theory, and mathematics. Many astronomy students complete internships, fellowships, work-study programs, and other practical experience opportunities while earning their degree. Many astronomers also complete additional experience and training for permanent government and academia positions.

What are the prospects for a career as an astronomer?

Employment of astronomers is projected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 7% from 2006 to 2016 (1). The increase in astronomy research and curiosity of astronomical events will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be favorable especially for astronomers with advanced education and extensive experience. Job opportunities will be the best in academia, research laboratories and the government. Job openings will also arise from the need to replace astronomers who retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do astronomers make?

As of October 2009, the middle 50% of astronomers earned annual salaries between $94,746 and $111,091. The highest 10% earned annual salaries of more than $124,580 (2).

A career as an astronomer is a great choice for individuals that have a strong interest in astronomy and the make up of the universe. Astronomers must have excellent problem solving skills, mathematical ability, analytical skills, an active imagination, and inquisitive mind. They must also have great oral and written communication skills and be able to effectively work independently as well as part of a team.

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