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.
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.