Do you love the stars and planets? Are you interested in a career in astronomy? You can learn how to become an astronomer and put yourself on this very unique career path.
There are many types of astronomy. This can be a very rewarding career, for the right person. If you’re ready to become an astronomer, it’s best to start by understanding this career.
We will look at the job duties of this career first. This will help you understand what you will be doing as an astronomer. Let’s look at the job duties and the process of how to become an astronomer.
Job Duties of an Astronomer
When you become an astronomer, your job duties will likely depend on the field you go into. There are several different options from galactic to planetary astronomy. Many of the job duties will overlap, but some may be more specific to each specialty.
Astronomers will study the cosmos and the human relationship. They will use radio, political, and space-based telescopes to gather different types of information. Some of the common job duties include:
- Working with other professionals on research, design, and development
- Communicating with a team of scientists, engineers, and technicians
- Gathering information through observation with specific instruments and software
- Creating and testing theories based on your own observations and the observations of others
- Writing grant proposals
- Applying for research grants
- Writing articles and papers to be published
- Teaching astronomy at a university or college
No matter the specialization you choose, these are the common job duties every astronomer will likely perform.
How To Become an Astronomer in 5 Steps
Step #1 – Do Well in High School
Becoming an astronomer requires you to do well in science courses in high school. Most careers in science will require you to score high on the SATs, ACTs, and in AP science courses. This will help you get into a better bachelor’s degree program.
With the right prep courses and study materials, you can score high enough to get accepted into a top degree program. A top degree program will lead to a better graduate program, which can lead to a higher-paying job.
Step #2 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics or astronomy makes the most sense for an astronomer. You may also get a degree in physics or mathematics. Astronomers will need more than a bachelor’s degree, however.
Step #3 – Get a Master’s Degree
You will need to earn your master’s degree next. This degree will help you specialize. You can get a degree in cosmology, astrophysics, or astronomy. Getting a master’s degree will take about two years and will include writing a thesis.
Step #4 – Get your Ph.D.
To become an astronomer, you will likely need a Ph.D. This degree will be in a more specific area, such as planetary, solar, or galactic astronomy. It will take about three years to complete. During your doctoral degree studies, you will research and write a dissertation.
Step #5 – Complete a University Fellowship
Most astronomers will complete a fellowship at a university after getting a Ph.D. This is a research position to help you gain experience in the field.
Common Types of Astronomy
As an astronomer, you can go into multiple types of astronomy. The most common include:
- Stellar astronomy – If you want to study the stars and phenomena related to the stars, this is the area for you. Stellar astronomy includes pulsars, white dwarfs, black holes, and nebulae.
- Galactic astronomy – If you want to investigate galaxies, such as the Milky Way, this is the area of expertise for you.
- Planetary astronomy – If you go into planetary astronomy, you will get to work on discovering new planets. You will also study the current known planets in this field.
- Cosmology – Those wanting to look at the entire universe will want to go into cosmology. This area of expertise will include studying the origin of the universe, its nature, and how it may evolve over time.
- Solar astronomy – A focus on the sun’s system is known as solar astronomy. This may include storms, atmospheres, magnetic fields, and any phenomena related to the sun.
Necessary Skills to Become an Astronomer
With many years of education, you will need to become an astronomer, you will need the right skills to be successful. If you want to become an astronomer, develop the following skills:
- Creative Thinking – You will need to solve problems and think through things creatively. Since astronomers work with some of the unexplored territories and unsolved mysteries of the universe, it’s necessary to be a creative thinker.
- Work with a Team – Most astronomers will work with other scientists when doing research. Daily activities will have you working closely with those in the field. You may also work with technicians and engineers. Teamwork skills are necessary for this type of career.
- Writing Skills – You will likely write papers and articles to share your findings. Developing excellent writing skills will be necessary to succeed as an astronomer.
- Computer Skills – Astronomers will work with computers and technology regularly. You will want to learn specific software programs and understand programming languages.
- Engineering Skills – You may need to build instruments for your research. If this is the case, you will need good engineering and mechanical skills.
If you want to be successful as an astronomer, work on developing these skills as you go through the many years of education.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Astronomer
How much will I make as an astronomer?
If you become an astronomer, you can expect to earn an average yearly salary of around $104K, according to Indeed.com. This is actually the salary of a research scientist, which is the larger category astronomers fall under.
Top employers will likely pay a higher salary. You can also earn more as an astronomer with more experience and advanced skills. Those with 10 or more years of experience earn an average salary of about $140K per year.
What is the work environment like for an astronomer?
Depending on your employer, you may work in a research facility at a university, a lab, or an observatory. Some private companies may also hire you and you may work in a different type of environment.
It’s common for astronomers to also teach at a university. This means you may spend time in a classroom setting. Full-time astronomers often work in an office, along with a lab or observatory.
What type of hours do astronomers work?
Most astronomers will work a normal full-time workweek. Hours will be similar to 9-to-5. However, night-time observation will be necessary, too. During these times, hours may vary quite a bit. You may also work longer hours during observation.
Astronomers may also need to travel to do research or present papers. When traveling, the hours you work may vary.
What’s the cost of the education needed to become an astronomer?
The cost to become an astronomer can vary quite a bit. You may earn scholarships, grants, and other forms of funding to help mitigate the cost.
Most universities and colleges will charge between $8K and $45K per year for your schooling. This can add up fast. You will likely pay another $30K to $120K to get a master’s degree and about $30K per year to get a doctorate degree.
Is this career in high demand?
The demand for astronomers is higher than the average of all occupations. It’s a career expected to grow by about 10% over the next ten years.
How long will it take me to become an astronomer?
You will need four years to get a bachelor’s degree and at least another two or three to get a master’s degree. Those wanting to teach or work at the highest level of this career will also need a Ph.D. This will take four to six years to obtain.
Overall, it may take anywhere from six years to 13 years to become an astronomer. You might be able to complete the education faster or start working in an entry-level position sooner while working on your advanced degree.
Where will I work as an astronomer?
Many astronomers work for colleges and universities. You may teach courses and conduct research. It’s also common to work for a government-supported lab or observatory. This will be more of a research position.
Private employers will also hire astronomers. These include consulting companies and aerospace firms. You may work for a planetarium or a science museum, too.
While you may not work for an observatory, you will likely visit one a few times a year. Astronomers need to observe the night sky, which means time in an observatory is likely going to be necessary.
Those enjoying the night sky, planets, and the stars might want to consider learning how to become an astronomer. If you love science and you’re good at it, this can be a very rewarding career. It tends to pay well and will open up many opportunities if you earn your Ph.D.