Science

Astronomer

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

Annual Salary

£13,000 to £60,000

Average UK salary in 2018 was £29,588 (source Office for Statistics)

Working hours

Variable

What's it all about?

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.

You can get into this job through:

  • a university course

University

You'll need a degree and postgraduate qualification to work as an astronomer. Your degree will usually need to be a first or upper second-class.

Relevant subjects include:

  • maths
  • physics
  • astrophysics
  • geophysics
  • astronomy
  • space science

You can also do an extended 4-year degree to get a postgraduate qualification like a master of physics. These courses include more independent research and can lead directly onto a PhD.

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

You'll usually need:

  • 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, maths and a science
  • 3 A levels, including maths and physics
  • a degree in a relevant subject for postgraduate study

Further information

You'll find more advice on careers in astronomy from the Royal Astronomical Society and SpaceCareers.uk.

£13,000 to £60,000

Starter salary: £13,000 to £14,000

Experienced salary: £29,000 to £36,000

These figures are a guide.

Variable

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.

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.

Skills required and how your skills match up

What skills are required?

You'll need:

  • maths knowledge
  • knowledge of physics
  • analytical thinking skills
  • science skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • the ability to use your initiative
  • the ability to think clearly using logic and reasoning
  • concentration skills
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently
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