Astronomy Jobs and Information
This page provides information on astronomy jobs, degrees, and other information related to the field of Astronomy.
What is Astronomy
Astronomy is the study the galaxies and moons. Other aspects include stellar astronomers (study of stars), solar astronomers (study of the sun), galactic astronomers (study of the galaxy), extragalactic astronomers (study of all different galaxies and structure of the universe), and cosmologists (study the origin and evolution of the universe).
Additionally, other specialty areas of astronomy exist, which include radio astronomers that study many different objects with the use of radio telescopes and instrumentationalists that specialize in the building of new equipment.
Qualifications in Astronomy
Students interested in pursuing an astronomy degree will be required to meet specific criteria with the core of education being in physics and mathematics. The basic curriculum for astronomy will include the following areas: Astronomical Observations
Calculus and Analytic Geometry
Particles and Motion
Particles and Waves
Quantum Physics I and II
Solar System Astronomy
Stellar Evolution or Cosmology
Stellar and Galactic Astronomy
Thermal Physics and Electrostatistics
If students are interested, they may also consider additional studies, allowing them to use their gained knowledge in other fields such as: Aerospace Engineering
Areas you can work in Astronomy
Astronomy can be dated back to the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Mayans that all used calendar systems based on the stars. In 1543, Nicolaus Copemicus presented the heliocentric theory of the universe, which led to modern day astronomy. For this reason, once the proper degrees are completed in this field, several career opportunities are available. Colleges and Universities
Approximately 55% of all professional Astronomers are faculty members at colleges or universities or have some degree of affiliation through laboratories and/or observatories. Typically, the focus is on teaching, which involves in depth research time.
Instead of working for a separate astronomy department, most teaching Astronomers are actually members of other departments such as physics. Due to training obtained through undergraduate and graduate studies, an Astronomers qualifications open many doors of career opportunity.
While teaching is the primary role of an Astronomer in a college or university setting, they are also heavily involved in research. Therefore, in addition to the research facilities and observatories operated by many universities, Astronomers are also fortunate in that they can take advantage of many national level institutes.
An Astronomer involved in observation will easily spend up to 30 nights each year obtaining valuable observations from spacecraft or from hands-on experience in an observatory. Then, the remaining time is used to analyze all the data that has been collected, as well as interpret observations and plan observational programs. Government Laboratories / National Observatories
In addition to the educational field, approximately 33% of professional Astronomers are employed by the Federal Government or by laboratories and national observatories that are supported by the Federal Government.
Typically, to secure a position such as these, the Astronomer would need to hold a Ph.D. in Astronomy or Physics, and occasionally have a degree in a specialized area of engineering. Although the Astronomer will often dedicate time for research of a broad spectrum, in this type of role, he or she is given very specific direction since the government agencies have precise goals and interests, unlike that of college or university careers.
Therefore, the Astronomer would focus much of his or her attention to the research goals of the laboratory or observatory although individual research is highly encouraged. One of the requirements is for the Astronomer to dedicate tremendous effort to the design and operation of instrumentation. Additionally, Astronomers are directed to work closely and cooperate with any visiting scientists. Business and Private Sectors
Another 10% of Astronomers focus their work in business or private sectors. For example, you would see the field of aerospace consisting of professional Astronomers, researching to provide the company with data that would keep them ahead of their competition. Additionally, Astronomers often work for consulting firms that devote their time to specific tasks for government agencies. You will also find many businesses and private sectors using Astronomers not for their skill with research but for their talents and background in other areas such as physics or mathematics.
Most Astronomers have strong expertise in areas such as remote sensing, instrumentation, computer applications, and spectral observations. Although there are generally good jobs from which to choose in the business and private sector, it is most often not as secure as careers available at colleges and universities, and government agencies.
With the business and private sectors, Astronomers are most often hired as consultants. Because the companies typically protect the jobs of their good full-time employees, Astronomers might find the choice of work limited. Regardless, the available work is usually intellectually, challenging with good growth potential. In this case, while a Ph.D. might be useful for some industries, it is generally not as strong a requirement. Miscellaneous
The remaining percentage of Astronomers work in a number of arenas to include: Science Museums
To work in these areas, an Astronomer would be required to have extensive knowledge of astronomy and possess clear and effective communication. Considering that some of the jobs would be available in secondary schools where earth science of physics would be taught, the Astronomer needs to have expertise while at the same time using his or her skills to teach a younger classroom.
Typically, an Astronomer would hold a Ph.D. but individuals that have achieved an undergraduate major in Astronomy or Physics could very easily secure a position at a national observatory or laboratory, Federal Government agency, astronomy departments within larger universities, and so on, working in a support position. Additionally, the undergraduate degree in astronomy comes with many benefits when preparing to work as a laboratory technician, computer programmer, science teacher, or science journalist.