Astronomy and Cosmology

Astronomy and cosmology are scientific fields that explore the depths of space and all that is contained within. Learn about career possibilities and employment outlook as well as recommended degree programs and course topics.

Is Astronomy and Cosmology for Me?

Career Summary

Astronomy is the study of celestial bodies, such as the planets, stars, solar systems and galaxies. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy that deals with the structure and origin of the universe. Thus, a cosmologist is an astronomer who specializes in studying the creation of the universe and galaxy formation.

Astronomers use observational and theoretical research methods to study the universe's physical nature. They rely on prodigious amounts of data received by earth-based and space-based telescopes to further their scientific studies. If you're an aspiring astronomer, good problem-solving skills and an analytical mind are desirable, since you will need extensive training in physics and mathematics. Properly trained astronomers often work in academia as instructors and researchers. They continually try to advance in their work and become more independent. Senior astronomers can seek funding for extensive projects or hold managerial positions in astronomy institutions.

Job Possibilities

Although most professional astronomy careers require a Ph.D., there are some jobs available to individuals with lower-level degrees. If you earn a bachelor's or master's degree, you could work as a research assistant, lab technician or engineer. You could also work in planetariums or science museums. If you want an astronomy research career, you'll need a doctoral degree. Astronomers with doctoral degrees often work for space observatories, scientific research industries and government agencies, like NASA. Because most space observatories are affiliated with colleges and universities, many astronomers hold faculty positions within these institutions.

Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job growth for physicists and astronomers was expected to be as fast as average for all occupations from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Also according to the BLS, astronomers earned a median annual wage of $110,450 as of May 2013.

How Can I Work in Astronomy and Cosmology?

Education Requirements

If you want to become an astronomer, you can begin your education with a bachelor's degree in astronomy or physics. You can learn theories and principles that will be fundamental to graduate studies, such as thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. Upon earning your undergraduate degree, you may apply to master's degree programs, or you can skip that level and apply to doctoral degree programs.

Curriculum

You should be prepared to take many rigorous classes that cover topics like solar system astrophysics, interstellar medium and star formation, particle physics, cosmology and high-energy astrophysics. You can also expect to work on research projects and spend time as a teaching assistant. After graduating from a Ph.D. program, you will likely spend several years working on postdoctoral research assignments and receiving additional specialized training.

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