What Do Astronomers Do? (Plus Salary Info and Necessary Skills)

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Do planets, stars, galaxies, and solar systems fascinate you? Would you love to understand how and why the universe works the way it does?

The study of astronomy is the oldest of the natural sciences. It is the only science in which you can study and observe physics at work throughout the whole universe, and yet not physically be able to touch what is being studied. Interestingly, it was the invention of the telescope that enabled astronomy to develop into a modern science.

An astronomer will spend his or her time analyzing data, writing research papers, or creating computer programs that allow a more effective search for the data collected.

Astronomers study planets, stars, and other celestial bodies. They use ground-based equipment, such as optical telescopes, and space-based equipment, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Some astronomers study distant galaxies and phenomena such as black holes and neutron stars.

What do astronomers do?

Typical astronomer job duties

The scientific method forms the basis of an astronomers daily duties. Therefore, common job responsibilities include:

What is an astronomer?

An astronomer is a research scientist who studies the elements of the universe with the purpose of a better understanding of how the universe works, if life exists or existed elsewhere and how astronomers can apply knowledge of space phenomena to other fields of study. Typical objects of study include planetary bodies, black holes, galaxies and many other phenomena beyond the solar system. Astronomers conduct studies, test hypotheses, write research papers and present their findings to other astronomers and the public.

There are different fields of study with astronomy, including solar astronomy, stellar astronomy and planetary astronomy, among others. Typically, astronomers specialize in one area and direct the majority of their research towards that field. Astronomy is closely connected with physics, and some astronomers apply specialties in chemistry, biology or geology to their niche.

To conduct their work, astronomers rely on a number of tools such as telescopes, cameras, spacecraft, computers and spectrographs. Using these tools, they observe and record data about the nature of the universe.

Astronomer work environment

Astronomers most commonly work in a laboratory setting. These laboratories are either run by private companies, universities, colleges or government agencies. They spend a lot of their time working from a computer, where they conduct their research using the latest technologies.

Some astronomers also travel frequently. They visit other laboratories across the world to learn about different experiments, share information or borrow equipment. For example, an astronomer may need to go to a location where it is dark enough to view certain celestial events or travel to a laboratory that contains a more powerful telescope.

While most astronomers work normal, daytime hours, there may be a few nights a year in which they need to conduct observations at night or on a weekend, depending on when celestial events occur.

Average salary and job outlook for astronomers

The most common degree for astronomers is a Ph.D. Obtaining a Ph.D. typically requires two other degrees. The first is a bachelor of science degree in a field such as physics or astronomy. It is during your bachelors degree program where you learn about foundational topics such as physical astronomy, vector calculus, linear algebra, physics, computers and differential equations.

After receiving a bachelors degree, the next step is usually a masters degree. You can obtain a masters degree in astronomy or a related topic such as physics or math, depending on your interests. A masters degree provides you with more advanced knowledge related to astronomy and begins to cover more advanced topics related to your specific interests within astronomy.

Finally, after receiving your masters degree, you can then apply for a doctoral program. In some cases, students go right from a bachelors degree program to a Ph.D program, though completing a masters degree between these two degrees is more common.

Common subjects for Ph.D. programs include astrophysics, x-ray astronomy and radio astronomy, among others. A typical doctoral program takes about four or five years. In the first two years of a Ph.D., you generally take additional astronomy-related courses and participate in research projects. In the remaining years, you develop and defend your doctoral dissertation.

Astronomer skills

Below are some of the most common skills that astronomers use throughout their professional work:


Astronomers use math during their research and analysis, including algebra, geometry and calculus. They also frequently use math in relation to physics, which is another important skill. Astronomers know the type of arithmetic they need in specific situations along with how to properly apply it to achieve correct results.

Critical thinking

When conducting their experiments, astronomers regularly use critical thinking skills to help them properly analyze results. A big part of their work is collecting information and drawing conclusions from it in order to develop further ideas and experiments, constantly aiming to improve on past work.


Astronomers use problem-solving skills during the course of their research. They develop methods for testing a hypothesis, and sometimes, the ideal technology or equipment for these methods may not exist yet. Astronomers then find a way to solve this problem, either creating a new way to test their hypothesis or working to develop new technologies. For example, astronomers of the past developed the telescope to solve their problem of being unable to closely study celestial objects.


Astronomers use communication skills in two primary ways. First, they communicate with other astronomers and science professionals to discuss theories and cooperate on experiments. They can effectively communicate what they are trying to study and gather useful information from others.

In addition to this, astronomers regularly communicate their findings with the public. They are able to clearly explain what they discovered, how they discovered it and how it may impact future studies.


Astronomers have patience when studying the universe. It often takes time to collect the necessary data, especially when this data comes from outer space. For example, sending a satellite into space and receiving data from it can be a project that takes years. Astronomers, therefore, typically have a long-term view when it comes to their research and the patience to wait for all the data they need.

Computer literacy

Much of our current understanding of the universe was made possible thanks to computers. Astronomers regularly use computers to complete their research, whether it is to run advanced analysis on a dataset, create 3D models, interact with a satellite or control a long-range telescope. Astronomers are comfortable using all sorts of computer equipment and may even have some experience with creating the software programs they need to conduct their experiments.


What do astronomers do every day?

collect and analyse data from cameras, satellites and other observations (if working in observational astronomy) plan and execute research projects to answer fundamental questions (such as how do galaxies form?) apply for time to observe at international observatories, if necessary to your work.

Do astronomers get paid well?

Eventually astronomers are granted university tenure, a permanent position where they generally work for the rest of their career. Astronomy is a small field, but very popular. Only those with a strong education, ability and a deep passion for the subject are likely to find a permanent position.

Is being an Astronomer hard?

According to the labor statistics bureau, the median salary for astronomers in May 2019 was $114,590, meaning that half of astronomers earned more than this and half earned less; the AAS reports that college faculty members’ salaries start at around $50,000 and reach $80,000 to $100,000 for senior faculty.

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