How to become a Astronomer

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

Personal requirements of a Astronomer

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

Education & Training for a 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. A number of universities in Australia offer degrees in these areas. 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. For full details, refer to the entries on the website at www.goodcareersguide.com.au or university handbooks.

Duties & Tasks of a Astronomer

Astronomers may perform the following tasks:

  • observe objects in space, from the Earth’s surface and via orbiting satellites, using a wide range of specialised telescopes or detectors
  • design and attach special equipment to telescopes or spacecraft when necessary
  • make calculations using mathematical and physical principles to study the behaviour of matter and energy in the visible universe
  • record, analyse and compare results of observations using complex electronic and computer equipment
  • develop theories to explain recorded observations and make predictions, and express these as mathematical equations
  • attempt to understand the fundamental nature, origin and evolution of the universe
  • investigate the formation and evolution of the solar system
  • use computers to produce star catalogues and tables of measurements for use in navigation, surveying, time determination and other disciplines
  • develop instruments and detectors for all radiation (radio, infrared, optical, X-ray, gamma ray and cosmic ray, for example) 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.

Working conditions for a 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 a 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.

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