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Become an Astronomer



Astronomy is a very exciting and interesting job, but if you want to become an astronomer, you have to make sure that you get the right qualifications.

Astronomy is mainly about the physics of the Universe - the way stars and galaxies and so on actually work. It is quite an unusual science because it deals with lots of extremes - very big things like galaxies and very small things like atoms and sub-atomic particles; very hot things like the middles of stars and very cold things like the spaces between galaxies and so on. So, astronomers need to understand lots of different bits of science - that is what makes it so interesting!

Astronomers apply the principles of physics and mathematics to learn more about the universe. They gather data on the characteristics of planets, moons, stars and other objects using telescopes and computer programs. Astronomers usually specialize in certain types of celestial bodies or events, such as black holes. Typical duties include developing and testing scientific theories, analyzing data and writing research proposals. They also spend time composing scientific papers and presenting their findings to others in the field.

Most astronomers work within a team of scientists. They usually work full time, although research may also be conducted at night when some objects are more visible. Astronomers primarily work in offices. At times, they might be required to work in observatories or to travel internationally to facilities with specialized equipment. They may also travel when presenting research.

Educational Requirements

Most astronomy positions require a Ph.D. in the field of astronomy, which usually takes 5-7 years to complete. These programs are likely to contain courses in astrophysics, stellar and planetary physics, galaxies, cosmology, interstellar medium and optics. Mathematics and computer science are also emphasized.

After completing a Ph.D. program, aspiring astronomers often enter one or more postdoctoral research positions, which can take roughly 2-3 years to complete. They typically work under senior astronomers before taking on more complex projects. Astronomers who are employed by the federal government may need to obtain proper security clearance.

Required Skills

According to the BLS, astronomers must have the ability to solve complex problems, conduct research and accurately analyze data. They need strong math and science skills, along with being about to work within a team. It also helps to have knowledge of specific science-related software programs.