What does a Astronomer do?

Median Pay $117,220
Growth Rate 14%
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An astronomer is a scientist who studies the universe. They focus on the stars, planets, moons, celestial objects, and other galaxies. Some of their studies are observational and they may come up with theories to support their observations. Astronomers can specialize in planetary astronomy, galactic astronomy, or physical cosmology and their primary work is done in laboratories or observatories.

Learn about the types of projects NASA astronomer Carrie Anderson gets to work on in the video Carrie Anderson: Taking on Titan.

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How to Become an Astronomer

You would need to earn a bachelor’s degree and have a strong physics or science background. Once you earn your bachelor’s degree you would continue to work towards a master’s degree and then continue onto a Ph.D. In total, it can take you anywhere from 7-9 years to become an astronomer after earning your undergraduate and graduate degrees. Your studies would include content on planets, starts, moons, galaxies, and the universe in general. The graduate degrees can also include managerial and research classes.

Job Description of an Astronomer

astronomer

Astronomers are involved in the study of galaxies, stars, and planets using telescopes and even space-based equipment. Some astronomers may explore objects in the solar system while others study the origin of the universe, the nature of time, black holes, neutron stars, or other galaxies. They can also conduct scientific experiments to test theories and discover properties of energy and matter.

Astronomers also gather data from mathematical calculations to analyze information that may point to the existence of planets in distant solar systems. The following video provides more information into this exciting career field.

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Astronomer Job Posting

Let’s look at a job description posted by the Smithsonian Institution. This job announcement is looking for a person to perform the following responsibilities:

This is the position of Astronomer in the Solar, Stellar and Planetary Division of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. S/He participates in research involving orbits, orbital elements, and orbit determination of minor planets and other activities related to the functioning of the Minor Planet Center.

  • Determines orbits for objects whose observations are submitted to the Minor Planet Center.
  • Function as part of a team in the processing of orbital elements and related information received by the Minor Planet Center. This includes checking data for both reliability and relevance, consulting with the contributors when appropriate.
  • Function as part of a team to use existing procedures for making more sophisticated identifications of newly reported objects with minor planets observed only very perfunctorily in the past, so that new objects can as a result be considered known and their orbits added to the main database.
  • Function as part of a team to assist with the design and development of substantial modifications to current techniques for the determination of orbits from observations.
  • Function as part of a team to assist with the discovery and correction of errors in the MPC’s orbital and observational databases.
  • Function as part of a team to assist with the development of new orbital integration and propagation routines, as well as the introduction of modem mathematical and physics techniques to the differential correction problem.
  • Function as part of a team to assist with the application of new procedures for determining the orbits of minor planets.
  • Assist in the preparation of reports on activities by the Minor Planet Center and on.

This position was posted to run 07/30/2018 until 01/31/2019 with a salary range of $67,643 to $125,335 per year on USAjobs.gov (link opens in a new tab). USAjobs.gov is an official website of the United States government and part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Student Astronomy Resources

WorldWide Telescope:

If you are interested in Astronomy, you may like the WorldWide Telescope (link opens in a new window) website. The website functions as a virtual telescope and brings images from Earth and space-based telescopes that allow for seamless panning and zooming of the night sky!

NASA Television

NASA’s TV channel (link opens in a new window) is interesting and it’s easy to access online.

Related Careers to Research:

Astronomer Career Video Transcript

Physicists and astronomers explore the dimensions of the universe… from the vastness of intergalactic space… to minute subatomic particles. They study the ways different forms of matter and energy interact. Physicists explore the laws that govern space and time. They may focus on theoretical areas like how the universe was formed, or take a more practical direction such as developing laser surgery technology.

Astronomers study planets, stars, and other celestial bodies. Using telescopes and space-based equipment, their research may examine our own solar system, or aim at distant galaxies. Most physicists and astronomers work full time, often on teams with engineers and other scientists. They are employed by higher education institutions, scientific research and development organizations, and the federal government— especially NASA and the Department of Defense. Some need to apply for research grants to fund their work. Astronomers and physicists do most of their work in offices. Astronomers visit observatories occasionally as data from observations has become widely available via the Internet.

Some physics experiments require particle accelerators or nuclear reactors, but most research is conducted in smaller laboratories. Research and academic positions require a Ph.D. A master’s degree qualifies candidates for most positions in manufacturing and healthcare. The Federal government employs scientists with degrees ranging from a bachelor’s to a Ph.D., depending on the position and agency.

Carrie Anderson: Taking on Titan Video Transcript

I built my first AM radio with my dad full-on, really sodering and building. I built, you know, missile rockets, and we launched those. And we had telescopes. And he was the first to show me Mars. And I slowly got into the space program that way. I knew in high school that I wanted to be an astronomer. You can discover and find out what’s going on. Depending on what you are studying. For me, it’s Titan’s atmosphere.

Name’s Carrie Ander and I’m a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and I’m a team member on Cassini CIRS. CIRS is called the composit infrared spectrometer, and it’s one of the tweleve instruments on board the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Satern. What CIRS does is it goes beyond the human visible spectrum part, that we see with our eyes, into the thermal infrared, what I’ll call it. So imagine sitting in front of fire, and you are not looking at it, but you’re feeling the fire, the heat from the fire. CIRS sees that heat and records it. And then we can tell what is going on: there’s this molecule, this molecule, this type of maybe particulate, a cloud. to try to figure out “Ok, what could that be?” And that’s what we’re doing to to find out the types of clouds that we see with CIRS.

But if you just kind of look at Titan from a big picture point of view, first of all it’s a moon, and it orbits Satern. It’s Satern’s largest moon. And it’s the second largest moon in our solar system, next to Jupiter’s Ganymede. But what’s really intriguing about Titan is that it is the only moon in our solar system with a thick, substantial planet-like atmosphere. On Earth, in our troposphere, you know, when you look up and you see clouds those are all made of liquid water, ice crystals or a combination of the two. Well, Titan doesn’t have that. It has methane instead. So you’d see all this methane rain, methane drizzle, methane clouds, all that.

There’s a lot of early Earth scientists out there who want to learn about, you know, life “Is there life?” You can go to Titan as one possibility, because it can be representative what the early Earth was like before we were here. It’s a completely different environment than Earth, but it has a lot of similarities at the same time. It’s a very dynamic world. In studying it, you can do any kind of photochemistry, different chemistry, different physics. I was always interested in math and science, but my dad, I think, was a key role. I wanted to keep doing it and learning, and I’m here. Dream come true!

Article Citation

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicists and Astronomers.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.