How to Become an Astronomer

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Astronomers study the evolution and existence of objects such as stars, planets, galaxies and the moon. They gather information that can be used to calculate the size of these objects; use their observations to develop theories about the existence of the celestial bodies; and publish scientific articles in scholarly journals. Prospective astronomers must be competent researchers with a postgraduate degree in astronomy.

Obtain the Knowledge

  • The journey to becoming an astronomer begins in undergraduate school, where students must earn a bachelor’s degree in physics, astronomy, geology, oceanography or other physical or natural science field. At this level, graduates can qualify for employment as research technicians or assistants. The next step is to complete a master’s degree in astronomy, which enables holders to work as science teachers in high school. A master’s degree also serves as a steppingstone to pursuing a Ph.D. in astronomy, a common credential in the field.

Develop the Skills

  • To excel in scientific research, astronomers must have strong analytical, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. After gathering research data, for instance, they need to evaluate it, assess its importance and draw accurate observations. The work of an astronomer sometimes entails using equipment such as refractors and fork mounts -- so they require good practical and technical skills to use the equipment effectively. Math ability, writing skills and self-discipline are other must-haves for astronomers.

Join a Professional Body

  • Qualified astronomers don’t need a license or professional certification to find work. However, government agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- or NASA -- may require astronomers to pass a criminal background check. The American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical League offer memberships that allow access to career-enhancement opportunities, such as conferences, training workshops and seminars. Those who participate in observing events, such as the Messier Marathon, may be given special awards or certificates.

Find a Job and Get Ahead

  • Astronomers with a Ph.D. can find teaching jobs in universities or research jobs in independent research centers. In the latter setting, beginning astronomers typically work under the supervision of experienced scientists for about three years before being allowed to engage in projects independently. With additional training, astronomers may practice as solar, planetary, galactic or extragalactic astronomers. These specialties focus on the sun, planets, galaxies, stars and the universe, respectively. With vast work experience, astronomers can become natural science managers in science agencies, such the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2013, the average annual wage for astronomers was $110,440, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

References

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