An astronomer holding a metal plate

An astronomer could...

Help plan a voyage to another planet or the moon and explain the mission to the public. Photo of a man next to an American flag on the surface of the moon Determine the composition of a planet, its atmosphere, and its moons. Photo of Jupiter
Investigate how galaxies are formed and if supermassive black holes live at their centers. Photo of a spiraling galaxy Use sensitive radio telescopes to spot comets and asteroids with the potential to impact Earth. A large satellite dish
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Astronomers think big! They want to understand the entire universe—the nature of the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, galaxies, and everything in between. An astronomer's work can be pure science—gathering and analyzing data from instruments and creating theories about the nature of cosmic objects—or the work can be applied to practical problems in space flight and navigation, or satellite communications.
Key Requirements Curiosity, imagination, ability to visualize abstract concepts, and strong math and analytical skills.
Minimum Degree PhD
Subjects to Study in High School Chemistry, physics, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, Earth science, statistics
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Because most jobs are in basic research and development, a doctoral degree is the usual educational requirement for astronomers. Master's degree holders qualify for some jobs in applied research and development, whereas bachelor's degree holders often qualify as research assistants or for other occupations related to astronomers.

Education and Training

A PhD degree in physics or closely related fields is typically required for basic research positions, independent research in industry, faculty positions, and advancement to managerial positions. This prepares students for a career in research through rigorous training in theory, methodology, and mathematics.

Additional experience and training in a postdoctoral research appointment, although not required, is important for astronomers aspiring to permanent positions in basic research in universities and government laboratories. Many astronomy PhD holders ultimately teach at the college or university level.

Holders of a bachelor's or a master's degree in astronomy often enter an unrelated field. However, they are also qualified to work in planetariums running science shows, to assist astronomers doing research, and to operate space-based and ground-based telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation.

Other Qualifications

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, an inquisitive mind, imagination, and initiative are important traits for anyone planning a career in astronomy.

Nature of the Work

Watch a Dragonfly interview with an astronomer
Watch this DragonflyTV video interview with a real astronomer, Marianne Takamiya, who works at a telescope atop a 14,000-ft. mountain in Hawaii.
Watch this DragonflyTV video interview with a real astronomer, Marianne Takamiya, who works at a telescope atop a 14,000-ft. mountain in Hawaii.

Work Environment

Most astronomers do not encounter unusual hazards in their work. Astronomers who make observations with ground-based telescopes may spend many hours working in observatories; this work usually involves travel to remote locations and may require working at night. Astronomers whose work depends on grant money often are under pressure to write grant proposals to keep their work funded.

Astronomers may need to work at odd hours to observe celestial phenomena, particularly those working with ground-based telescopes.

On the Job

  • Study celestial phenomena, using a variety of ground-based and space-borne telescopes and scientific instruments.
  • Analyze research data to determine its significance, using computers.
  • Present research findings at scientific conferences and in papers written for scientific journals.
  • Measure radio, infrared, gamma, and x-ray emissions from extraterrestrial sources.
  • Develop theories, based on personal observations or on observations and theories of other astronomers.
  • Raise funds for scientific research.
  • Collaborate with other astronomers to carry out research projects.
  • Develop instrumentation and software for astronomical observation and analysis.
  • Teach astronomy or astrophysics.
  • Develop and modify astronomy-related programs for public presentation.
  • Calculate orbits and determine sizes, shapes, brightness, and motions of different celestial bodies.
  • Direct the operations of a planetarium.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Astronomers

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Additional Information


Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Northrop Grumman Corporation
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