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Astronomy Careers

Career Description

Astronomers observe, research, and interpret celestial and astronomical phenomena to increase basic knowledge and apply such information to practical problems.

Common Work Tasks

  • Use the principles of physics and mathematics to learn about the fundamental nature of the universe, including the sun, moon,  planets, stars, and galaxies
  • Solve problems in navigation, space flight, and satellite communications and to develop the instrumentation and techniques used to observe and collect astronomical data
  • Do basic research to increase scientific knowledge
  • Conduct applied research to build upon the discoveries made through basic research and work to develop new devices,  products, and processes
  • Analyze large quantities of data gathered by observatories and satellites and write scientific papers or reports on their findings
  • Operate large space-based or ground-based telescopes
  • Write and present reports of research findings
  • Develop and revise programs presented to the public and may direct planetarium operations

Other Job Titles

Astronomers are also known by other titles, including:

  • Physicists
  • Geologists
  • Hydrologists
  • Physical Scientists

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
 
A Ph.D.  degree in physics, astronomy, or a closely related fiend is typically required for basic research positions, independent research in industry, faculty positions, and advancement to managerial positions. This prepares students for a career in research through rigorous training in theory, methodology, and mathematics. Most astronomers specialize in a subfield during graduate school and continue working in that area afterwards.

Additional experience and training in a postdoctoral research appointment, although not required, is important for astronomers aspiring to permanent positions in basic research in universities and government laboratories. Many physics and astronomy Ph.D.  holders ultimately teach at the college or university level.

Holders of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in astronomy often enter an unrelated field. However, they are also qualified to work in planetariums running science shows, to assist astronomers doing research, and to operate space-based and ground-based telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation.

Experience
 
Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, an inquisitive mind,  imagination, and initiative are important traits for anyone planning a career in physics or astronomy. Prospective physicists who hope to work in industrial laboratories applying physics knowledge to practical problems should broaden their educational background to include courses outside of physics, such as economics, information technology, and business management. Good oral and written communication skills also are important because many physicists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, or have contact with clients or customers with non-physics backgrounds.

Salary

The median annual salary of an Astronomer is $99,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $145,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $44,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of astronomers are:

  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools  - $82,040
  • Federal Executive Branch - $121,450
  • Scientific Research and Development Services - $101,890

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  6%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 100
  • Employment 2006 : 1,700
  • Employment 2016:  1,800
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