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Astronomer

Astronomers use scientific techniques to study the origin and make-up of the universe.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £13,000 to £60,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll usually need a BSc (Hons) degree (2:1 or higher) in:

  • physics
  • astrophysics
  • geophysics

You could move into astronomy if you’ve a background in computer science, maths or some branches of chemistry or engineering.

You could also take an extended degree, leading to a postgraduate qualification like an MPhys or MSci. 

Many employers will expect you to have completed, or be working towards, a PhD in your specialist area.

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) has a list of relevant degree courses, and information on work experience opportunities.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • good powers of observation and attention to detail
  • a methodical and logical approach to work
  • the ability to analyse problems, work with abstract ideas and do complex calculations
  • the ability to produce scientific reports for publication and present your research findings
  • strong IT skills

3. What you'll do

Astronomy is divided into observational astronomy and theoretical astronomy.

In observational astronomy, your duties might include:

  • collecting data from satellites and spacecraft using radio and optical telescopes
  • developing new instrumentation and maintaining existing equipment
  • developing software to interpret the images captured by satellites
  • analysing data and testing theories

In theoretical astronomy, your duties might include:

  • creating complex computer models to develop theories on the physical processes happening in space
  • analysing the results of past observations to develop new predictions
  • making observations and testing theories
  • analysing data to help develop our understanding of events in the universe

You’ll keep up to date with developments in your area of interest by going to meetings and conferences, carrying out research, writing reports and presenting your findings.

As well as working in laboratories and observatories, you might also work in a museum, planetarium, or university.

4. Salary

Starter: £13,000 to £14,000

Experienced: £29,000 to £36,000

Highly Experienced: £60,000

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You may need to  work long and irregular hours, including weekends, evenings and nights, 

Your work is likely to include frequent travel to meetings and conferences. You’ll often need to visit observatories in the UK and overseas. 

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you could move into related careers like aerospace or satellite research and development.

You could also use your skills in systems analysis, software engineering, teaching, scientific journalism or accountancy.

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Last updated: 22 December 2016