What is an Astronomer?
When you hear the word astronomer, you probably think of someone using a telescope to study the stars and planets. While that is true for some astronomers, there are other branches of this science that explore different questions about our universe.
Astronomy falls under two main categories, observational and theoretical. Observational astronomers observe celestial objects and analyze the data, while theoretical astronomers create models and simulations of things that cannot be observed.
Astronomer is a scientist who specializes in studying the universe beyond Earth. They can focus on either observational (by using telescopes and other instruments to observe astronomical objects) or theoretical astronomy, which seeks to explain those observations via physical laws. Related subjects include physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole. Astronomers study stars, planets, comets, galaxies, gamma-ray bursts, and other cosmic phenomena.
A professional astronomer spends the majority of his or her time conducting research. Many work at observatories, although the modern astronomer often uses charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras rather than photographic plates to take long exposures of celestial bodies. The astronomer’s job is to analyze these images and make predictions about what they have observed. Historically, astronomy focused on classifying and describing celestial phenomena, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena using physical laws. Today, that distinction has mostly disappeared and the terms astronomer and astrophysicist are often used interchangeably. Amateur astronomers can be found in all corners of the world, from those with a passion for the sky to those who own science-grade telescopes and can assist professionals with their observations.
Astronomy is a scientific discipline that studies celestial objects such as stars, planets and galaxies. It can be broken down into two categories – observational astronomy and theoretical astronomy.
Observational astronomers collect and analyze data from telescopes to determine the properties of heavenly bodies. They can work in a variety of fields including planetary science, solar astronomy or galactic astronomy. Theoretical astronomers use the laws of physics to explain observations and develop new theories about the universe.
Astronomers must have a strong academic background in physics, mathematics and computer sciences. A PhD is a prerequisite for a career in this field. Research astronomers must be comfortable with long night-time hours in observatories and frequent travel to meet with colleagues and present their results at conferences and international meetings. Excellent written and oral communication skills are essential.
Astronomy teachers help students understand the complexities of the night sky. In addition to teaching the fundamentals of astronomy, such as planetary motion, stars, galaxies and more, they introduce their students to concepts that require advanced math and chemistry knowledge. They often serve as the lead teacher in a STAR program, which brings professional astronomers into 4th through 9th grade classrooms around the country to provide hands-on observing sessions and educational activities.
An astronomy teacher also makes use of their experience to help students make the connection between scientific principles and culture. Astronomy is not just about complex spatial relations and declarative knowledge, but also incorporates elements of history, myth and imagination. Having a solid understanding of how astronomy has intersected with culture helps students gain a deeper appreciation for the field. As the discipline evolves, it is important for astronomy educators to keep up with the latest developments in science education research. This ensures they are able to effectively translate new discoveries for their students.
Astronomy researchers focus on studying celestial objects and phenomena that are outside the scope of Earth. They can study subjects such as planetary science, solar astronomy or the formation of galaxies. They can also choose to focus on a specific area of research such as observational or theoretical astronomy.
Graduate students who pursue a PhD in astronomy usually take a number of classes the first 2-3 years and then slowly shift their effort towards conducting research with their academic advisor. It is important to find a department that has faculty with similar research interests and who have time and funding to mentor a graduate student.
Research astronomers spend most of their working hours observing celestial objects using telescopes and other instruments to collect data. They also work on theory and mathematical modeling to understand the nature of these objects and their interactions with each other and the larger universe. They also write proposals to secure grant funding and publish their results in scientific journals.