- Observe and study the universe to understand its origins and how it works
- Requires good powers of observation and a methodical and logical approach
- May need to work long and irregular hours, including nights
Astronomers are scientists who view, study, and make predictions about the universe, including its planets, stars, galaxies and black holes. This is an exciting scientific field which is always pushing human knowledge further.
As an astronomer, you can work in observational astronomy, using telescopes and cameras to look at the stars, galaxies and other astronomical objects, or in theoretical astronomy, where you'll use maths and computer models to explain observations and predictions.
Astronomy is divided into observational astronomy and theoretical astronomy.
In observational astronomy, your work might include:
- Collecting data from satellites and spacecraft
- Using radio and optical telescopes
- Developing new instrumentation
- Maintaining existing equipment
- Developing software to interpret the images captured by satellites
- Analysing data and testing theories
In theoretical astronomy, your duties might include:
- Creating complex computer models to develop theories on the physical processes happening in space
- Analysing the results of past observations to develop new predictions
- Making observations and testing theories
- Analysing data to help develop our understanding of events in the universe
You'll keep up to date with developments in your area of interest by going to meetings and conferences, carrying out research, writing reports and presenting your findings.
As well as working in laboratories and observatories, you might also work in a museum, planetarium, or university. Working hours can be irregular, particularly for observational astronomers and when travel is needed for conferences.
To become an astronomer you'll need a strong interest in space, excellent maths and physics knowledge, and logical thinking skills.
You'll normally need a degree and postgraduate qualification to work as an astronomer. Relevant degree subjects include maths, computer science, physics, astrophysics, geophysics, astronomy, or space science - you'll normally need A levels or equivalent including maths and physics to gain a place on one of these courses.
You can also do an extended 4-year degree to get a postgraduate qualification like a master of physics. Almost all astronomy jobs require you to have or be working towards a PhD in your specialist area of interest.
The best way to find out if you're well-suited for a career in research astronomy is to spend time doing research. Many university departments offer summer placements for undergraduate students and you can sometimes be involved with research alongside your studies.
Permanent astronomy research posts are primarily at universities and are highly competitive. With experience, you could move into related careers like aerospace or satellite research and development.
You could also choose to move into a different but related career, such as systems analysis, software engineering, teaching, or scientific journalism, or something in aerospace, satellite research or the geophysics industry. It’s also possible to take on management or consultant positions using the skills you’ve gained from your research.