What Does an Astronomer Do?

Astronomers observe and study celestial phenomena. They also work in offices and observatories. Their job responsibilities include doing scientific experiments and research, planning and writing proposals for funding, doing complex math calculations, designing and developing computer software that models data, etc.

Some astronomers do public outreach and write books for the general public. However, most of their time is spent doing research.


Astronomers are scientists who study the solar system, galaxies and other areas related to outer space. They work in universities, observatories and planetariums and often teach classes. They also work for government agencies, such as NASA and the Department of Defense.

The field of astronomy is highly competitive. Many astronomers spend 5-7 years in grad school, where they have tuition costs waived and earn a small stipend. After that, they may spend a few more years as postdoctoral researchers before finding permanent employment.

This type of job requires a lot of hard work and attention to detail. Astronomers must comb through a large amount of data and look for subtle shifts that may seem insignificant to the untrained eye. They also have to write reports and proposals for research funding. This can be a very challenging and rewarding career, but the pay isn’t great. Many astronomers will end up working for the federal government or private not-for-profit institutions.


Astronomers may work in universities, observatories and planetariums or in private industry such as software writing. They also work for government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense and at national laboratories like Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Goddard Institute in Maryland and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California.

Those who work for the government usually earn more than those who work in academia. In addition to their research responsibilities, astronomers who work for government agencies often act as consultants to NASA and serve on government panels in the sciences.

Other astronomers use their skills to teach in colleges and universities where they can share what they know about the universe with students and the public. They can also become writers of science fiction or nonfiction books aimed at the general population. In all cases, astronomers must be able to convey complex information clearly and succinctly in both written and verbal communication.


Astronomers can work in many different environments, including the private sector as software writers or technical advisers, as well as for universities and the government. They can also choose to specialize in areas such as cosmology or telescope design.

Working in astronomy is often highly competitive, and salaries are usually high. In fact, it is regarded as one of the top 10 highest-paying careers. However, it can be very stressful, particularly if your research is not progressing as expected. In addition, you may have to travel a lot for conferences and meetings with other astronomers from around the world.

Another aspect of the career that can be difficult is switching between different institutions. The typical career path from a PhD program at a university to tenured faculty typically takes more than 10 years and requires multiple relocations. This can be a huge financial sacrifice for some families and individuals. Astronomers also spend a large amount of time writing scientific papers and applying for grants to fund their research projects.

Work Environment

Astronomers are often employed by universities and other research centers. They may also work in planetariums and science museums or teach in secondary schools. Many astronomers do public outreach as well, giving multiple talks to the general public each year. They may also help to plan space missions for NASA and other organizations.

Working in this field can be quite a time commitment. It takes a while to make the transition from a grad student in a PhD program to an academic faculty member at a university and this can require moving around to different institutions several times. However, for those who are dedicated to the field, it can be a fulfilling career choice. Depending on the location, salary levels for this profession can be above average as well. This is especially true in places like San Mateo, California, and Green River, Wyoming where the average salaries for astronomers are higher than the national average.

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