How To Become An Astronomer
Astronomy is a natural science, focusing on celestial objects such as planets, moons, stars, galaxies, and comets. Astrology also includes the study of phenomena such as explosions and radiation. Astronomers are interested in the entities that make up our universe, outside of the Earth. Astronomers conduct research in order to learn more about these objects and phenomena in our universe. A career as an astronomer often requires several years of experience and education, including a doctoral degree.
Why Become An Astronomer
Astronomy is the oldest natural science. Even the earliest civilizations, such as the Mayans, Egyptians and Greeks studied the skies, researching and performing calculations. Astronomy is important to understanding the Universe, and how the Earth is just one small, important piece of a much larger puzzle.
There are two main branches of astronomy: observational and theoretical. Observational astronomy deals with using equipment to observe celestial objects, acquiring data, analyzing data and interpreting results, and writing reports based on findings. Theoretical astronomers develop analytical and computer models to describe how astronomical objects and phenomena operate and behave.
An astronomer spends much of their time conducting research. They conduct experiments, using highly specialized equipment. They may work in an observatory, or travel to observatories across the country. They develop models using computer software to help explain their findings. They observe objects in the sky, collect data, analyze and interpret that data.
Astronomers may write up scientific papers and reports, explaining the importance of their findings. They may travel to conferences, presenting their findings to other scientists, networking with others, and learning more about the field. In this field, you will have the ability to make genuine achievements that help advance the field of astronomy and science.
A job as an astronomer is great for somebody who is fascinated by planets, stars and other astronomical objects, somebody who loves science and is good at conducting research, and somebody who has a theoretical mind and enjoys critical thinking.
Astronomers should possess the following qualities and skills:
- Loves outer space
- Detail oriented
Astronomer Work Environment
Many astronomers work for the federal government. NASA and the Department of Defense are the two largest employers of astronomers within the federal government. Astronomers have access to the latest, state of the art equipment, conducting research and tests, and using their knowledge of astronomy.
Astronomers spend time in offices, doing tests, researching, interpreting data, analyzing, and explaining their results. They may travel to visit other observatories. Part of their job may include traveling to conferences to report their findings, network with other astronomers, and learn more about their field.
The median annual salary for astronomers was $104,740 in 2016, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The salary for astronomers can vary, depending on various factors. Astronomers are able to work in a variety of settings. Many work for the federal government, for sectors such as NASA and the department of Defense. Astronomers who worked for the federal government earned a median wage of approximately $145,000 in 2016.
Some astronomers may choose a career at a college or university instead. These positions earned a median salary of $75,000, about half that of other astronomers. It’s important to think about what kind of setting you want to work in when considering this occupation.
Average Astronomer Annual Salary
The average annual salary for astronomers is $109,560 a year. Salaries start at $54,110 a year and go up to $165,280 a year.
Average Astronomer Hourly Wage
The average hourly wage for a astronomer is $52.67. Hourly wages are between $26.02 and $79.46 an hour.
Stats were based out of 2,020 employed astronomers in the United States.
Highest Paying States For Astronomers
- 1. District of Columbia $61.15 / hr $127,190 / yr
- 2. Maryland $60.43 / hr $125,700 / yr
- 3. Hawaii $59.70 / hr $124,180 / yr
- 4. Colorado $52.45 / hr $109,100 / yr
- 5. California $49.39 / hr $102,740 / yr
Top Paying Cities For Astronomers
- 1. Washington, DC $64.38 / hr$133,920 / yr
- 2. Houston, TX $59.77 / hr$124,320 / yr
- 3. San Jose, CA $56.90 / hr$118,360 / yr
- 4. Baltimore, MD $56.38 / hr$117,270 / yr
Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Astronomer Career Outlook
Employment for astronomers is expected to grow by 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than average, compared to other occupations in the United States.
Many astronomers are employed by colleges and universities. Others are employed by the federal government. Because of the restricted budgets and spending within the government, there may not be much hiring for these positions. People who do have positions as astronomers may have to seek out limited grants in order to fund their research work. Government funds and budgets may cause the lack of hiring for astronomer positions.
If you would like to become an astronomer, read below for more information.
Step 1: Undergraduate education. You must have a bachelor’s degree in order to become an astronomer. A major in physics is most recommended, because of the strong background in physics needed for this field, although some other programs may be considered. During college you will take classes in astronomy, optics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, mechanics, quantum mechanics, and more. College will help you decide if astronomy is a good career path for you. It takes four years to receive a bachelor’s degree.
Step 2: Graduate school. In order to become an astronomer, you will need to attend graduate school. A PhD is needed for any job requiring research or at a college or university. Apply to a doctoral program, get accepted and enroll. During your doctoral program, you will have the ability to take advanced coursework dealing with astronomy. You will also do advanced astronomy research, working with other professionals and the latest physics equipment. It takes about five years to receive a doctorate.