How to Become an Astronomer


Those who become astronomers are individuals that have a keen interest in celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole; they tend to read over and above what is taught in the classroom.


They are quite passionate about astronomy, and are motivated by the prospect of expanding our understanding of energy, matter and natural processes throughout the universe.


They are also well educated in math, physics and astronomy, and they have the patience to pursue a career with low turnover and few vacancies.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to get into this line of work. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Educational Requirements

In order to qualify for entry-level jobs in astronomy, you typically need a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in astronomy, astrophysics or physics.


Having a bachelor’s degree in one of these areas will qualify you to work in technical positions in observatories, planetariums and science centres.


A Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree is required for most research assistant and consulting positions.


A doctoral (Ph.D.) degree is needed if you want to work for a college or university as a teacher or a researcher. You will also need a Ph.D. to work in most federal government research positions. Most astronomers who have doctoral degrees work as post-doctoral fellows for 3-6 years before finding permanent employment.


Success Tip: It can be helpful in many areas of modern astronomy to have knowledge of computer science, chemistry and biology





What is an Astronomer?

Astronomers conduct theoretical and observational research of celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole, in order to expand our understanding of energy, matter and natural processes throughout the universe.


Astronomers cannot perform their experiments directly, as they can’t weigh, touch or smell their subject matter. Instead, they must rely on observing the radiation (visible light, radio, infra-red) that comes to earth.



General Job Description

The job description of an astronomer can vary, as most astronomers concentrate on a particular question or area of astronomy, such as planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. The job description of an astronomer can also vary depending on whether they work in observational or theoretical astronomy.


Observational astronomers are responsible for testing predictions or theories by designing and executing observational programs that use sophisticated digital cameras attached to telescopes, specialized computer programs and spacecraft to gather and analyze data.


Theoretical astronomers are responsible for working to understand the physical processes within our universe. For example, they may use complex computer models of a celestial body’s interior in order to determine the processes that are responsible for that body’s appearance.


Generally, astronomers spend the majority of their time using or creating computer programs to analyze data, writing research papers and attending meetings. 



Typical Job Duties

• Formulate explanations for the observed properties of the universe by using mathematics and physics

• Make predictions by solving mathematical equations or using computer-based simulations

• Test predictions by conducting observation

• Use a variety of ground-based and space-borne telescopes and scientific instruments to make observations of and obtain data on astronomical objects

• Use computers for instrument control and data processing

• Analyze acquired data

• May be required to develop specialized instruments



Who Creates Jobs for Astronomers?

Jobs for astronomers are very competitive, as there is much interest in them and relatively few positions available. For example, in North America there have only been around 150 job openings for astronomers in recent years.


Astronomers commonly spend 3-6 years in post-doctoral positions before finding a permanent job. Employers in the academic, aerospace, communications, computer program development and other industries hire astronomers. These employers include:


• Colleges and universities

• Government agencies

• Public and private observatories

• Science centres and planetariums





Skills and Traits You'll Need

To be successful in this profession, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. They will not only allow you to perform your job duties with competence; they will allow you to endure the challenges of this career.


• A natural interest in observing the radiation that comes to earth

• Able to work in a science in which you can’t weigh, touch or smell your subject matter

• A natural aptitude for science and mathematics

• Well-versed in working with instrumentation, remote sensing and spectral observations

• Able to use specialized computer applications to solve unusual problems

• The ability to pay very close attention to detail

• The ability to work as a member of a team

• Curiosity, imagination and a capacity for reflection and contemplative study



Astronomer Salary

The salary level of astronomers can vary, depending on their level of experience, their level of education, their various qualifications, where they work, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many others.


Astronomer Salary Canada: According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as astronomers earn an average of $126,434 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Astronomer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Physicists and Astronomers occupational group is $105,430 per year. 



Astronomy Jobs

Our job board below has "Astronomer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Typical Working Conditions

Working Hours: There are many variables that determine how astronomers spend their time, so many of them work flexible shifts to meet the demands of their job. For example, observational work in astronomy typically requires unconventional hours, such as working very late at night, as well as a considerable amount of travel.


Work Setting: Astronomers work in a variety of settings, although most astronomers work in offices. Some astronomers may spend many hours working in observatories. However, observations are increasingly done remotely via the Internet without the need for travel to an observatory. Sometimes astronomers work at high altitudes in remote areas where weather conditions can be extreme.



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to astronomer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.










Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession.


Occupations in Alberta:Astronomer.” (February 20, 2017). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Physicists and Astronomers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

Education:Being an Astronomer.” (n.d.). National Optical Astronomy Observatory website. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

Information and Advice:About a Career in Astronomy.” (n.d.). Southern New Hampshire University website. Retrieved October 23, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming an Astronomer

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming an astronomer can be found on our Physics Scholarships and Mathematics Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for eventually working in this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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