What Does An Astronomer Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Stan T.Career, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Astronomers

Astronomers observe, research, and interpret astronomical phenomena to increase basic knowledge or apply such information to practical problems.

Salary
$126250
Becoming One
Very Hard
Education
Doctoral degree
Job Satisfaction
Job Growth

Personality
Interest Match





Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.Confucius

What they do

Astronomers observe, research, and interpret astronomical phenomena to increase basic knowledge or apply such information to practical problems.

  • 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.
  • Develop theories based on personal observations or on observations and theories of other astronomers.
  • Collaborate with other astronomers to carry out research projects.

Typical day

On a daily basis, Astronomers analyze research data to determine its significance, using computers. They study celestial phenomena, using a variety of ground-based and space-borne telescopes and scientific instruments.

  • Develop theories based on personal observations or on observations and theories of other astronomers.
  • Collaborate with other astronomers to carry out research projects.
  • Direct the operations of a planetarium.
  • Teach astronomy or astrophysics.
  • Calculate orbits and determine the sizes, shapes, brightness, and motions of different celestial bodies.

Other responsibilities

Besides their typical day, Astronomers also teach astronomy or astrophysics. They may also collaborate with other astronomers to carry out research projects.

On a weekly to monthly basis, Astronomers develop instrumentation and software for astronomical observation and analysis. They might also review scientific proposals and research papers.

In addition, they study celestial phenomena, using a variety of ground-based and space-borne telescopes and scientific instruments.

Although specific duties may vary, many of them analyze research data to determine its significance, using computers.

To some Astronomers, it is also their responsibility to develop theories based on personal observations or on observations and theories of other astronomers.

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What is the job like

Job satisfaction

Average

Is this job meaningful

High

69% said they were satisfied with their job and 65% said they found their job meaningful.


Laurence Jones

I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics and did research & teaching in astronomy for 16 years at various UK Universities and for NASA, at Goddard Space Flight Center, Washington DC.

I traveled to telescopes in exotic locations like Hawaii, the Canary Islands, Chile, and Australia, as well as use the Hubble Space Telescope & other satellite telescopes.

Day to day life was not as glamorous as that sounds though. About 95% of my time I would be office based. I would usually be sat in front of a computer, in my own office. Typical tasks were analyzing data, emailing & talking to colleagues, attending meetings, writing research proposals & papers, reviewing other research, and teaching. A typical day would be to get to my office around 8.30 am, check and reply to emails, and then work on one of my current projects. That might involve analyzing data from a recent visit to a telescope, which might take weeks to complete, or preparing a grant or research proposal. Then, with colleagues from down the corridor, and also abroad, I’d write up the research and its implications. That can take a long time!

Getting time on the large telescopes is very competitive; you write a proposal, with detailed evidence, and then you may (or may not) get allocated 3-4 nights of observing time the following year. For satellite telescopes like the Hubble or satellite X-ray telescopes (like XMM & Chandra), it’s even more competitive. They are hugely oversubscribed.

Lunch would sometimes be with colleagues, but more often at my desk. After lunch, I would go through the details of the astrophysics I was due to teach that afternoon. That would be a lecture to 50 students for an hour or perhaps in-depth teaching in a small group. I might also have other people’s research papers or proposals to review, or a Department meeting. I’d finish at perhaps 5pm.

Around 2-3 times a year I would go observing to a telescope, talk at an international conference, or go to a progress meeting of a large international research project. Occasionally we would have a very interesting research result, and get excited!

Pros

Most astronomers work in universities or at government organizations like NASA. These employers are flexible on holidays and work hours. Plus you get to travel. You can choose what research to work on, to a large degree. There is the intellectual stimulation of discovering new things.

Cons

You need a good degree in Physics, then a Ph.D. That’s a long time being a student. Your first research job after that will not be permanent (typically for 3 years), and you can be very concerned about where the next grant to pay your salary is coming from. Or you might have to move a big distance to a new University or lab to get the next job. Competition for the few permanent jobs is intense.

Why did I change my career? I was always on 3 or 5-year job contracts, and looking over my shoulder at the next grant or job. In the end, I decided to put down some roots, we started a family, and I turned my photography hobby into a business, KidsNaturally Photography.


Pros

Suitable for people who like to solve problems mentally.

Suitable for people who value achievements and are results-oriented.

This career is perfect for people who love to work indoors.

One of the highest-paid careers in the world.

Cons

Not suitable for people who like to start and carry out projects.

It is very hard to get into this career. Extensive skills, knowledge, and experience are required for this career.

Long working hours (More than 40 hours per week).

How much do they make

Average salary

$126250 per year

Average hourly wage

$61 per hour

Entry-level Astronomers with little to no experience can expect to make anywhere between $62,410 to $79,930 per year or $30 to $38 per hour.

Salary by experience Annual Hourly
Highest (Top 10%) $189,690 $91
Senior (Top 25%) $166,710 $80
Median $119,730 $58
Junior (Bottom 25%) $79,930 $38
No experience (Bottom 10%) $62,410 $30

This table shows the top 10 highest paying industries for Astronomers based on their average annual salary.

Salary by industry Annual Hourly
Federal Executive Branch $146440 $70.40
Scientific Research and Development Services $142130 $68.33
Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions $113440 $54.54
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools $96570 $46.43

View more salary by industries here.

Where can they work

Where can Astronomers work? Here is a table showing the top 10 largest employers of Astronomers including the average salary in that industry.

Employers Total Employed Annual Salary Hourly Wages
Scientific Research and Development Services 720 $142130 $68.33
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools 660 $96570 $46.43
Federal Executive Branch 460 $146440 $70.40
Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions 40 $113440 $54.54

What is the work day like

Working hours

Less than 40 hours
0%

40 hours
5%

More than 40 hours
95%

Working schedule

59%

41%

0%

Email

How often do you use email in this job?

Once a week
5%

Every day
95%

Telephone

How often do you have telephone conversations in this job?

Once a week
68%

Every day
14%

Group discussions

How often do you have group discussions in this job?

Once a week
45%

Every day
55%

Public speaking

How often does this job require you to do public speaking?

Never
0%

Once a year
27%

Once a month
36%

Once a week
23%

Every day
14%

Level of competition

How much competitive pressure is in this job?

Not competitive at all
0%

Slightly competitive
0%

Moderately competitive
5%

Highly competitive
33%

Extremely competitive
62%

What is the work environment like

Office-style environment

Indoors in an environmentally controlled condition

Never
5%

Once a year or more
0%

Once a month or more
0%

Once a week or more
0%

Every day
95%

Warehouse-style environment

Indoors in a non-controlled environmental condition such as a warehouse

Never
41%

Once a year or more
50%

Once a month or more
9%

Once a week or more
0%

Every day
0%

Outdoors

Outdoors exposed to all weather conditions

Never
55%

Once a year or more
45%

Once a month or more
0%

Once a week or more
0%

Every day
0%

Outdoors – Under Cover

Outdoors but under cover (e.g. structure with roof but no walls)

Never
36%

Once a year or more
59%

Once a month or more
5%

Once a week or more
0%

Every day
0%

How to become one

Difficulty to become one

Very Hard
You will need an extensive amount of skill, knowledge, and experience. Careers in this difficulty category usually require graduate school and more than five years of experience. These careers usually involve coordinating, training, supervising, or managing the activities of others to accomplish goals. Very advanced communication and organizational skills are required. Similar careers include Pharmacists, Lawyers, Astronomers, Neurologists, and Veterinarians.

Required level of education

What level of education do you need to perform the job?

Less than a High School Diploma
0%

High School Diploma or equivalent
0%

Post-Secondary Certificate
0%

Some College Courses
0%

Associate’s Degree or similar
0%

Bachelor’s Degree
5%

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate
0%

Master’s Degree
5%

Post-Master’s Certificate
0%

First Professional Degree
0%

Doctoral Degree
27%

Post-Doctoral Training
64%

Relevant majors

Physics and Astronomy

A program that focuses on the scientific study of the theories that explain the fundamental structure of our world and the universe and which draws from physics and astronomy. Includes instruction in astronomy, calculus, cosmology, differential equations, electricity, magnetism, data analysis, physics, quantum mechanics, space science, spectroscopy, and thermal physics.

Astronomy

A general program that focuses on the planetary, galactic, and stellar phenomena occurring in outer space. Includes instruction in celestial mechanics, cosmology, stellar physics, galactic evolution, quasars, stellar distribution and motion, interstellar medium, atomic and molecular constituents of astronomical phenomena, planetary science, solar system evolution, and specific methodologies such as optical astronomy, radioastronomy, and theoretical astronomy.

Astrophysics

A program that focuses on the theoretical and observational study of the structure, properties, and behavior of stars, star systems and clusters, stellar life cycles, and related phenomena. Includes instruction in cosmology, plasma kinetics, stellar physics, convolution and non-equilibrium radiation transfer theory, non-Euclidean geometries, mathematical modeling, galactic structure theory, and relativistic astronomy.


Planetary Astronomy and Science

A program that focuses on the scientific study of planets, small objects, and related gravitational systems. Includes instruction in the structure and composition of planetary surfaces and interiors, planetary atmospheres, satellites, orbital mechanics, asteroids and comets, solar system evolution and dynamics, planetary evolution, gravitational physics, and radiation physics.

Relevant work experience

How much related work experience do you need to get hired for the job?

None
29%

1 month
0%

1 to 3 months
0%

3 to 6 months
0%

6 months to 1 year
5%

1 to 2 years
5%

2 to 4 years
24%

4 to 6 years
14%

6 to 8 years
19%

8 to 10 years
0%

Over 10 years
5%

On The Job Training

How much on the job training do you need to perform the job?

None or short demonstration
36%

1 month
14%

1 to 3 months
5%

3 to 6 months
5%

6 months to 1 year
14%

1 to 2 years
5%

2 to 4 years
14%

4 to 10 years
9%

Over 10 years
0%

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Thinker

People with this personality likes to work with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. They prefer work that requires them to solve problems mentally.

The Builder
67%

People with The Builder personality type likes practical and hands-on work. They prefer working with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.


The Thinker
100%

People with The Thinker personality likes to work with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. They prefer work that requires them to solve problems mentally.


The Artist
71%

People with The Artist personality likes to work with designs and patterns. They prefer activities that require self-expression and prefer work that can be done without following a clear set of rules.


The Helper
38%

People with The Helper personality type likes to work with people and in teams. They prefer work that allows them to build relationships with others.


The Leader
24%

People with The Leader personality likes to start and work on projects. They also like leading people and making many decisions.


The Organizer
38%

People with The Organizer personality type likes to follow set procedures and routines. They prefer working with data and details more than with ideas.


You can read more about these career personality types here.

People who are suitable for this job tend to like working with ideas and require an extensive amount of thinking. They like searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

They also like working with forms, designs, and patterns. They often require self-expression and the work can be done without following a clear set of rules.

Take this quiz to see if this is the right career for you.

Work Values

Which values are the most important to a person’s satisfaction for this job?

Achievement
86%

You are someone who is results oriented. You prefer work that allows you to utilize your skills and abilities while at the same time giving you a sense of accomplishment.

Working Conditions
79%

You are someone who values job security, steady employment, and good working conditions. You also prefer work that keeps you busy all the time with something different to do every day.

Recognition
81%

You are someone who values job advancement and leadership roles. You prefer work that receives recognition for the work you do and jobs that are looked up to by others in the company and your community.

Relationships
33%

You are someone who likes to provide a service to others. You prefer a work environment where you can work with your co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Support
33%

You are someone who values a company that stands behind their employees. You prefer a work environment where everyone is treated fairly and is being supported by the company.

Independence
81%

You are someone who likes to work on your own and make your own decisions. You prefer work that requires little supervision and are allowed to try out your own ideas.

FAQ


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