The Different Roles in Astronomy

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 Teacher

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 Researcher

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.

Studying celestial objects and advancing knowledge of the universe through research and observation.

Astronomer Occupation

Astronomers use scientific research to study celestial objects and advance knowledge of the universe. They often work in observatories, both ground-based and space-based.

Observational astronomers spend much of their time at telescopes, tracking energy emitted by distant stars and movements of planetary bodies. This can require long hours of observation and analysis, which can be difficult for people with a family or other commitments.


Astronomers conduct observational, experimental and theoretical research to broaden knowledge of energy, matter and natural processes in the universe outside Earth. They use a variety of instruments including telescopes, spectrometers, cameras and data analysis software. They also collaborate with fellow scientists, often internationally, to share expertise and resources. This collaboration and sharing of ideas fosters a strong sense of community and camaraderie.

Many astronomers teach at the graduate level and mentor students. They also present their work at professional conferences. They have a wide range of skills and competencies, including coding (in particular Python), mathematical and statistical analysis and clear oral and written communication. They must be comfortable with presenting complex information to both lay and specialist audiences. They must be able to make technical arguments and justify their research in order to receive observing time with telescopes or grant funding for their projects. They also need to keep abreast of published literature in their field and be able to incorporate new developments into their work.


Theoretical astronomers create models of stars, galaxies, black holes and other cosmic phenomena that cannot be observed directly. They also teach others about their discoveries and provide outreach programs to help educate the public about space. They have excellent verbal and written communication skills, along with interpersonal and presentation abilities.

Many astronomers spend the majority of their time behind desks, planning research or studying data, but they also conduct observational and teaching activities. They may travel to observatories or participate in professional conferences and give presentations on their findings.

The most successful astronomers are those with strong undergraduate degrees in physics, math and computer science. Astronomers need significant writing and number crunching skills as they write reports and proposals for funding. They also learn to code, analyze and interpret data using computers. They may also be involved in the preservation of dark skies through work with organizations such as the International Dark-Sky Association. These positions can be extremely competitive.

Public Presentation

Often, astronomers are invited to participate in a public presentation to educate the public about their field of work. They are asked to give lectures and presentations to schools, universities, and science museums. They are also called to provide expert opinions and testify in legal cases related to astronomical matters.

Astronomers are primarily interested in discovering the nature of celestial objects such as the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. They want to know what makes them unique and how they came to be. They study the physical processes of these objects, ranging from the vast scales of space to the infinitesimal scales of subatomic particles.

They have strong Investigative interests, allowing them to enjoy careers that are mentally challenging and require extensive research. They also have moderate Realistic interests, which allow them to enjoy career fields that involve practical hands-on problem solving and activities that require self-expression. Astronomers also value Achievement, which allows them to find satisfaction in career opportunities that provide them with a sense of accomplishment.


Astronomers must develop and write research proposals to obtain grant funding for their projects. They may also serve on university committees and mentor students.

Astronomy is a highly competitive field, with a limited number of positions and a demanding academic path. Securing a faculty position and tenure requires dedication, perseverance, and a strong record of research accomplishments.

Astronomers work in a variety of environments, including universities, research institutions, observatories, and space agencies. Some astronomers teach in schools or work at planetariums and science museums to help explain their research results to the public. Others travel to observatories for observations, often working at night and enduring irregular sleep schedules. The rest of the time, astronomers spend their days in offices studying data and planning experiments. They typically visit observatories a few times each year for observational work. They can also assist engineers in the development of telescopes and other observation instruments. They may also provide guidance for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in planning space missions.