What Education Does an Astronomer Need?

To become an astronomer, you typically need to earn a Ph.D. degree. Read below to learn about what kind of education is needed to become an astronomer, what their job responsibilities are and the career outlook in astronomy. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Be an Astronomer?

You'll need an advanced graduate degree in order to be an astronomer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most astronomers have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in astronomy, physics or a similar field, which is typically necessary for faculty, managerial and researcher positions. In some cases, even postdoctoral research and training may be needed.

Required classes may include methodology, electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, atmospheric physics, statistical mechanics, inverse methods, data analysis, atmospheric dynamics, remote sensing, computational fluid dynamics and atmospheric radiative transfer. Doctoral programs usually also include a significant amount of lab work where you'll have the opportunity to perform original research. You can also expect to complete and defend a dissertation based on your research.

Important Facts About Astronomers

Work Environment Laboratory and Observatory
Key Skills Proficiency in Math and Science, Problem-Solving, Critical Thinking
On-The-Job Training None
Similar Occupations Aerospace Engineer, Biochemist, Geoscientist

Typical Job Duties

Astronomers are scientists who study celestial objects and the universe with the intention of exploring how the universe operates. In the field of astronomy, you'll study galaxies, stars, moons, suns and planets. This career requires a thorough understanding of mathematics and physics.

Astronomers' job duties include making observations using specialized instruments, taking measurements and recording astronomical information. Depending on your employer, you might be recording information to increase the scope of known facts about a particular aspect of the universe or you might be working towards research and development goals to create practical applications. You may use your knowledge of astronomy to resolve problems related to satellite communication, navigation and space flight.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

Astronomy is a niche career field in the United States. According to the BLS, there were only 2,160 astronomers employed in 2018, and about 200 astronomer jobs are expected to be created between 2016 and 2026.

Also listed by the BLS, astronomers earned a median annual salary of $105,680 in May 2018. Those in the bottom 10% of earners made $57,490 or less yearly, while the top 10% of the salary range earned an annual wage of $165,770 or more. The federal executive branch of government was the industry that paid astronomers the highest, with an annual median wage of $148,950.

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