What Do Astronomers Do? (With Duties, Salary, and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are many exciting disciplines to consider when pursuing a career as a scientist. If you enjoy learning about the universe, you might find a career as an astronomer fulfilling. Learning about what these scientists do and exploring other elements of the role can help you decide whether this career suits your interests and skill set. In this article, we answer the question, "What do astronomers do?", list the types of astronomers, explore their job duties and work environment, list the educational requirements to become one, share their salary and job outlook, and consider the required skills for the job.

Related: What Is an Astronomer? (With Job Description and Tips)

What do astronomers do?

Answering the question, "What do astronomers do?" depends on their specialty within the field, but the general responsibility of an astronomer is to study the universe. Their studies focus on concepts like how the universe works, whether life exists on other planets, the expansion of the universe, and how their knowledge of the universe can affect life on Earth. Astronomers use specialized tools like telescopes, spectrographs, and software to perform research on stars, planets, and galaxies. They may publish their findings for use by the scientific community, the public, and organizations such as government agencies, medical research facilities, and defence manufacturers.

Related: 6 Astrophysics Jobs (With Salaries and Primary Duties)

Types of astronomers

There are different types of astronomy you can pursue a career in depending on your talents and interests. Astronomers often specialize in studying a specific aspect of space, such as celestial bodies or black holes. Here are some common types of astronomers:

  • Planetary: Planetary astronomers study planets.

  • Solar: Solar astronomers study the sun.

  • Stellar: Stellar astronomers study one or more types of stars.

  • Galactic: Galactic astronomers study one or more galaxies.

  • Extragalactic: Extragalactic astronomers study galaxies outside of the Milky Way.

  • Cosmologist: Cosmologists study the origins of the universe and how it evolves.

Astronomer job duties

The scientific method forms the basis of an astronomer's daily duties. Common job responsibilities in this role include:

  • Creating new hypotheses related to their specialized discipline

  • Testing their hypotheses or those of others

  • Gathering the necessary data to conduct their experiments, largely through observational methods

  • Working with other science professionals to develop their experiments, including physicists, engineers and chemists

  • Analyzing their data and adjusting their experiments as they learn more

  • Travelling to various locations across the world to study different celestial events or t use the unique equipment located at different laboratories

  • Compiling their research and conclusions into scholarly papers and preparing them for publishing

Research: How to Use the Scientific Method Steps (With an Example)

Astronomer work environment

Astronomers most commonly work in a laboratory setting. These laboratories are either managed by private companies, universities, or government agencies. They spend a lot of their time working from a computer, where they conduct their research using the latest technologies.

Some astronomers also travel frequently. They visit other laboratories across the world to learn about different experiments, share information or borrow equipment. For example, an astronomer may visit a location where it's dark enough to view certain celestial events or travel to a laboratory that contains a more powerful telescope. While most astronomers work normal, daytime hours, there may be a few nights a year in which they conduct observations at night or on a weekend, depending on when celestial events occur.

Related: The 6 Types of Work Environments

Salary and job outlook for astronomers

According to the Canadian Occupational Projection System, the Government of Canada expects careers in the natural sciences to grow by more than 1.3% between now and 2028. This is higher than the average for all occupations, which is 0.9%. The income you may earn as an astronomer depends on many factors, such as your level of education, experience in the field, research contributions, specialty, and where you work. The national average salary for all scientists is $54,383 per year, but this average may be higher in certain cities.

Related: How to Research and Talk Confidently About Salary Requirements

Educational requirements for astronomers

Here are the educational requirements for becoming an astronomer:

Bachelor's degree

The first academic qualification for an astronomer is a Bachelor of Science degree. Students pursuing a career in astronomy often receive a bachelor's in astronomy or a related natural science field, such as chemistry or physics. This degree provides students with foundational knowledge in science, technology, and advanced mathematics concepts like calculus, linear algebra, and trigonometry.

Master's degree

After receiving a bachelor's degree, the next step is to gain entry into a master's degree program. Students often earn a Master of Science in astronomy, or they may choose another natural science. Some students seek as much education in astronomy as they can, while others choose to vary their knowledge base by receiving a bachelor's degree in one field of science and a master's in another.

Doctoral degree

Astronomers typically earn a doctoral degree to work as scientists, researchers, or professors. Common Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs for candidates in this field include astrophysics, astrobiology, astrogeology, cosmology, and other specializations within astronomy. Doctoral candidates complete coursework, lab work, and relevant research as part of their degree program, including a dissertation on an important topic in the field. After defending your dissertation and receiving your PhD, you meet the educational qualifications for a career as an astronomer.

Astronomer skills

Below are some of the most common skills that astronomers use throughout their professional work:

Math

Astronomers use math during their research and analysis, including algebra, geometry, and calculus. They also frequently use math in relation to physics, which is a skill that allows them to measure and evaluate the objects they study. Astronomers know the type of arithmetic required in specific situations and how they can apply it correctly it to achieve accurate results.

Critical thinking

When conducting their experiments, astronomers regularly use critical thinking skills to help them analyze results properly. A significant part of their work is collecting information and drawing conclusions from it. This helps them develop further ideas and experiments with the goal of leveraging and improving their past work.

Related: 6 Critical Thinking Skills and Why They Are Important at Work

Problem-solving

Astronomers use problem-solving skills during their research. They develop methods for testing a hypothesis, and sometimes, the ideal technology or equipment for these methods may not exist yet. Astronomers then find a way to solve this problem, either by creating a new way to test their hypothesis or by working to develop new technologies. For example, astronomers of the past developed the telescope to solve their problem of being unable to study celestial objects closely.

Communication

Astronomers use communication skills in two primary ways. First, they communicate with other astronomers and science professionals to discuss theories and collaborate on experiments. They can discuss what they're studying effectively and gather useful information from others they can use in their own research. Astronomers may also communicate their findings with the public, their peers, and certain organizations. They're able to explain what they discovered in a comprehensive manner, detail how they discovered it, and share how it may impact future studies.

Patience

Astronomers have patience when studying the universe. It often takes time to collect the necessary data for research and experimentation, especially when this data comes from outer space. For example, sending a satellite into space and receiving data from it can be a project that takes years. Astronomers typically develop long-term timelines when planning their research and expect each phase to take a significant amount of time to complete.

Computer literacy

Computers have made much of our current understanding of the universe possible. Astronomers regularly use computers to complete their research by performing tasks like running advanced analysis on a dataset, creating three-dimensional models, interacting with a satellite or controlling a long-range telescope. Astronomers are comfortable using many types of computer equipment and may even have some experience with creating the software programs they use to conduct their experiments.

Salary figures reflect data listed on quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌ Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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