Astrophysicists are highly skilled and educated in many disciplines. You might gather from the name, they use astronomy and physics extensively in their work. According to NASA, the goal of their astrophysicists is to “discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for life on planets around other stars.”
How to Become an Astrophysicist
At a minimum, you would want to start off by attaining a bachelor’s degree in astronomy, physics, math, or electronics. Then, at a master’s degree, you would want to continue your studies and take space science courses as well as differential and integral calculus while continuing with your courses in astronomy and physics. You would then gain your Ph.D. to become an astrophysicist. For employment, you may be asked to showcase any published scholarly works you may have written or discuss any conferences you may have presented at.
Astrophysicist Job Posting
Let’s look at a job description posted by the Smithsonian Institute. This job announcement is looking for a person to perform the following responsibilities:
This is the position of Astrophysicist in the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The employee will undertake a significant technical role in the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) working with CXC staff and NASA to maximize the scientific return of the ACIS instrument on the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The work will include generation of commands to the ACIS instrument, review and verification of spacecraft command loads to ensure the proper ACIS configuration, monitoring of the space radiation environment and staffing the ACIS instrument when appropriate, monitoring the health and safety of the ACIS instrument, and the analysis and interpretation of flight data to ensure the quality of the scientific data.
The position is charged with technical and scientific responsibility for formulating and conducting developmental research in the area of X-ray Astronomy and High Energy Astrophysics. The work may include the planning and designing of necessary experiments, the analysis and interpretation of experimental data, the proposing, planning, and designing of observing programs, the analysis and interpretation of observations, and the publication of significant results.
- Undertake a position as a CXC Instrument Scientist for the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS), with responsibility for the operation of the ACIS instrument.
- Propose and carry out specific investigations of ACIS performance and procedures, including solutions to unanticipated spacecraft or instrument events.
- Conduct and oversee the analysis of these studies, developing computer algorithms as necessary and supervising their implementation. Interpret the results of these investigations, doing theoretical calculations when appropriate.
- Review ACIS observing programs and advise Observers using the ACIS instrument on optimal configurations to achieve the scientific goals.
- Monitor the health and safety of the ACIS instrument as part of a rotating weekly schedule of the ACIS Operations Team. Monitor the realtime and dump data from the ACIS instrument to identify possible issues with the instrument performance and take action as necessary. Monitor the space radiation environment, calling telecons as needed, and take appropriate staffing actions as needed.
- Conduct research with X-ray satellite observations and with other space and ground-based facilities.
- Serve on committees, if/when invited, for purposes of scientific proposal review, scientific planning activities, as an advisory resource, and for establishing future directions of astronomical standards and in defining standards for astronomy.
- Determine the most relevant and fruitful areas for research, and conceive, propose, and carry out observational and data analysis efforts directed towards a wide range of astrophysical systems utilizing X-ray and other spectral and imaging data and other ground-and space-based facilities.
- Formulate plans and hypotheses in areas which are new and unexplored, or which have presented critical obstacles in the past, and carry them through to completion.
- Determine the applicability of findings to activities and interests of the Division and Observatory.
- Participate in overall astronomy programs of the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC), the High Energy Astrophysics division, and in overall scientific programs at SAO.
- Interact with scientists at SAO and other institutions to coordinate activities such as scientific observations and analysis, software development, and overall planning in astronomy.
- Prepare papers presenting research results for publication in scientific journals and presentation at scientific meetings and conferences.
- Attend professional meetings for the purpose of presenting new results and participating in the discussion of related efforts by other scientists.
- Referee papers submitted to scientific journals and participate on NASA peer review committees, if/when asked.
This position was posted to run 09/13/2018 until 01/31/2019 with a salary range of $81,077 to $148,108 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.
Free Resources for Students and Teachers
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses how he got hooked on science and why he became an astrophysicist in the PBS video, The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers (link opens in a new tab). The video has closed-captions and there are free support materials that accompany the video that educators can use in the classroom.
The Cornel University offers a free Relativity and Astrophysics course on EdX.org (link opens in a new tab) with the option to pay a small fee receive a verified certificate upon completion of the course.
By taking this course, you’ll learn:
- Explain the meaning and significance of the postulates of special and general relativity.
- Discuss significant experimental tests of both special and general relativity.
- Analyze paradoxes in special relativity.
- Apply appropriate tools for problem solving in special relativity.
- Describe astrophysical situations where the consequences of relativity qualitatively impact predictions and/or observations.
- Describe daily situations where relativity makes a difference.
Image Credit: NASA/MSFC. Photo of Astrophysicist Chryssa Kouveliotou.
NASA Astrophysics at science.nasa.gov (link opens in a new tab).