How to become an astronomer

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Picture of a supernova

If you’re fascinated by the planets and stars in our universe, and are always asking big questions, you might be cut out for a career as an astronomer.

In this guide we’ll look at how to become an astronomer and answer the questions:

  • What is an astronomer?
  • What do astronomers do?
  • How much do astronomers make?
  • What skills do I need to follow this career path?

'Curious about where the entire universe came from and why it began? You might be cut out for a career as a astronomer'

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What is an astronomer?

An astronomer is a scientist who studies the origin and composition of the universe. Astronomy is a branch of science that is mostly about the physics of the universe, which means the way things like stars actually function. It involves vast things like galaxies but also tiny things like atoms and sub-atomic particles. Astronomers need to understand different parts of science.

What do astronomers do?

There are two main parts to astronomy, and the tasks differ in each.

Observational astronomers might have the following duties:

  • Astronomers often work in planetariums
    Collecting data from satellites and spacecraft using radio and optical telescopes.
  • Coming up with new software that can help them understand the images collected y satellites.
  • Inventing new equipment and scientific tools; and maintaining the equipment they already work with.
  • Analysing data and testing out new theories.

Whereas a theoretical astronomer might have the following tasks on an everyday basis:

  • Making complicated software and computer models to develop theories on what exactly is happening out there in space.
  • Analysing the data from previous observations to make new predictions about the way the universe works.
  • Thinking critically about data they’ve collected in order to help our scientific understanding of the universe.
  • Carrying out research.
  • Going to meetings, events and conferences.
  • Writing reports that present their data and what they’ve learned.

Astronomers work in laboratories, observatories, museums, planetariums or universities.

How much do astronomers make?

The starting salary of an astronomer is quite low, it’s between £13,000 and £14,000. An experience astronomer can expect to make anywhere between £29,000 and £36,000. And the salary of a highly experienced astronomer could be around £60,000.

What skills do I need to follow this career path?

Essentially astronomers are trying to get an idea and an understanding of where the entire universe came from and where it began. So if you’d like to become an astronomer, it’s very important that you have a real sense of curiosity, that you naturally ask questions about why things are the way they are.

In order to pursue this career path, you’ll also need:

Astronomers work with lots of complex equipment

How to become an astronomer:

In order to become an astronomer, you’ll usually need a degree in physics, astrophysics or geophysics. You can also move into astronomy if you have a background in computer science, maths, chemistry or engineering.

You should study physics and maths at GCSEs level and for your A-levels. Chemistry can also be useful. Going on to study towards a PhD is also very useful for an astronomy career.  

Astronomers sometimes move into related careers like aerospace. They also use their transferable skills and technical knowledge in roles such as software engineering, teaching, scientific journalism or accountancy.

Like what you’ve read about becoming an astronomer? Take the first step by reading up about work experience and how it can kick-start your career.

Image credits

Planetarium via Wikimedia Commons; telescope by Ryan Wick via Flickr.

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