How to become an Astronomer

Astronomers study planets, stars, galaxies and other objects in the observable universe and use this information for theoretical and practical purposes.

Personal requirements for an Astronomer

  • Imagination
  • Patience
  • An inquisitive mind
  • Interested in mathematics, computing and physics
  • Good oral and written communication skills

Education & Training for an Astronomer

To become an astronomer you usually have to complete a degree in science at university with a major in astronomy, physics or astrophysics (preferably at honours level), followed by a postgraduate qualification in astronomy or astrophysics. To get into the degree courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, biology, chemistry, earth and environmental science, mathematics and physics are normally required. Entry to postgraduate courses usually requires completion of an appropriate bachelor degree. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements or offer external study. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information.


Duties & Tasks of an Astronomer

Astronomers:

  • Observe objects in space, from the Earth's surface and via orbiting satellites
  • Design and attach special equipment to telescopes or spacecraft when necessary
  • Make calculations using mathematical and physical principles
  • Record, analyse and compare results of observations
  • Develop theories to explain recorded observations and make predictions
  • Investigate the formation and evolution of the solar system
  • Produce star catalogues and tables of measurements for use in navigation, surveying, time determination and other disciplines
  • Develop instruments and detectors for all radiation observed from the Earth's surface or via spacecraft
  • Present the results of their work at scientific meetings and publish them in relevant scientific journals.

Tasks

  • Supervises and co-ordinates the work of technicians and technologists..
  • Tests the reliability of these methodologies and techniques by performing tests and experiments under various conditions..
  • Prepares scientific papers and reports, or supervises their preparation..
  • Develops analytical methodologies and techniques to investigate the structure and properties of matter, the relationships between matter and energy, and other physical phenomena..
  • May specialise in one or more branches of physics such as electrical, luminescent, mechanical, magnetic, radioactive, molecular, nuclear, ionospheric, atmospheric physics and signal analysis..

Working conditions for an Astronomer

Astronomers usually perform either observational or theoretical tasks. They have three main areas of study: the movement and position of stars, planets, galaxies and other objects; their physical and chemical properties; and their origins and evolution. Astronomers who need to make observations may need to travel long distances to observatories and may work long hours, often at night. However, more time is spent using computers than personally observing with telescopes.


Employment Opportunities for an Astronomer

Most astronomers work in government agencies, such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO); in observatories, including the Australia Telescope National Facility (for radio astronomers) and the Australian Astronomical Observatory (for optical astronomers); or in universities. These posts usually incorporate an element of teaching, administration or instrumentation design and development. Many astronomers find work in related fields such as physics, applied mathematics and computing, and it is advisable to complete an additional major in one of these fields. Demand for this occupation is influenced by the level of government funding for research, capital investment and the opportunity for overseas research.


Specializations

Astronomer

Astronomers study planets, stars, galaxies and other objects in the observable universe and use this information for theoretical and practical purposes.

  • Average age
    Average age
    41 years
  • Future Growth
    Future Growth
    Very strong
  • Gender Share
    Gender Share
    24% female
  • Average full-time
    Average full-time
    43 hours
  • Weekly Pay
    Weekly Pay
    $2,094
  • Skill level rating
    Skill level rating
    Very high skill
  • Unemployment
    Unemployment
    Lower unemployment
  • Full-Time Share
    Full-Time Share
    88% Full-Time
  • Employment Size
    Employment Size
    1,300 workers
  • Employment Size
    Employment by state
    ACT: 14.0%
    NSW: 27.9%
    NT: 1.4%
    QLD: 10.2%
    SA: 12.9%
    TAS: 1.3%
    VIC: 24.3%
    WA: 8.1%
  • Employment Size
    Age brackets
    15-19: 0%
    20-24: 1.6%
    25-34: 27.9%
    35-44: 29.1%
    45-54: 24.1%
    55-59: 8.4%
    60-64: 5.2%
    65 and Over: 3.8%
  • Employment Size
    Education level
    Advanced Diploma/Diploma: 1.9%
    Bachelor degree: 19.8%
    Certificate III/IV: 1.1%
    Post Graduate/Graduate Diploma or Graduate Certificate: 74.5%
    Year 10 and below: 0.6%
    Year 11: 0%
    Year 12: 2.1%
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