Do planets, stars, and galaxies fascinate you? Would you love to know how the universe works? Do you want to experience the concepts of physics at work throughout the whole universe? If the answer is yes, then astronomy is the perfect career for you. To know how to be an astronomer, keep reading!
Who is an astronomer?
Before diving deep into who an astronomer is and how to be an astronomer, it is important to understand the subject that is astronomy. What is it? Well, astronomy is the study of the uncountable things that exist in the universe like stars, planets, galaxies, and the solar system, generally known as celestial bodies. Astronomy is amongst the oldest branches of science. It integrates the knowledge of mathematics, physics and chemistry. Modern day astronomy has two distinct divisions, they are – theoretical astronomy and observational astronomy. Let’s understand both of these divisions in-depth:
In this field of astronomy, several astronomical phenomenons and positions of celestial or cosmic objects are explained using different analytical methods
All the possible data related to the universe that can be observed is collected. Usually, a group of astronomers work together to observe objects such as stars, other galaxies and black holes etc.
An astronomer is someone who studies the universe, as in the physical and chemical properties of anything that is outside of the earth’s atmosphere. They study the evolution of stars and of different planets to understand how they were created and what will happen as they age. Back in the day, astronomers used to observe the night sky to make predictions about celestial phenomena and study what is outside the earth’s atmosphere. Some notable names in the field of astronomy are Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Messier, among many others.
Fields within astronomy
Astronomy is divided into different fields. Examples of specialties in astronomy are solar astronomy, planetary astronomy, extragalactic astronomy, stellar, and cosmology. Astronomers usually choose to focus on one of these fields.
Each field branches into either an observational or theoretical type of study. Each of the branches are different yet complement one another, with theoretical astronomy being used to explain observational results and observational astronomy confirming the results obtained through theoretical analysis and computer modelling.
Astronomy can also be divided according to its links with other fields of science. Astronomy can apply physics, biology, and geology to explain the origin and evolution of space, stars, and celestial bodies. Those four subfields are astrophysics, astrometry, astrogeology, and astrobiology.
Roles and responsibilities of an astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who focuses on the study of space, which includes the stars, planets, and galaxies above us. They spend most of their time analyzing data, working on research papers, and creating computer programs that allow a more effective analysis of the data being collected from satellites.
Some of the other roles and responsibilities of an astronomer are:
- Conduct deep research on different celestial bodies
- Study the nature of energy and matter in the universe
- Analyze the collected data
- Participate in various seminars, conferences, and meetings
- Perform complex calculations and analyze data using computer programs
- Describe observations and conclusions in mathematical terms
- Develop theories based on observations
- Write scientific reports and journals to present findings and observations
How to be an astronomer?
There are various institutions at which one can study astronomy in India, and they each have their own eligibility criteria. However, there are some basic requirements that are common in all these institutions. Let’s discuss the base education needed to be an astronomer:
- You need to complete your 10+2 level with the core subjects being physics, chemistry, and maths
- You need to select a field of astronomy: choose from instrumental, theoretical, and observational astronomy
- In order to become an instrumental astronomer, you will need a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) degree in Electronic Communication
- If you wish to study observational astronomy, then you will have to choose at least one subject from the science stream
- To pursue a career in theoretical astronomy, you will have to complete a Ph.D. in Physics
- To take any course in astronomy you need to first clear the entrance examination. Then on the basis of rank you can get a seat in any one of the institutions that offer the program.
Different institutions require different entrance examinations. You will need to look at the admissions requirements page of the institutions to which you are applying to check you take the right test. Let a LaunchMyCareer advisor tell you this information and more with a custom career plan.
These are the common entrance examinations we see for astronomers:
- Joint Entrance Screening Test – JEST
- Graduate Aptitude Test – GATE
- Indian Institute of Astrophysics – IIAST
- CSIR University Grants Commission (UGC) National Eligibility Test – CSIR NET
- Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Graduate School Admissions – TFIR GS
- Key skills required to be an astronomer
Colleges to study astronomy in India
The following are institutions in India where you can get your education needed to be an astronomer.
Indian Institute of Technology (IITs)
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), Chennai
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai
- Indian Institute of Technology (BHU IIT), Varanasi
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati
- The Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAP), Bangalore
- Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani
- Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Thiruvananthapuram
- Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
- National Institute of Technology (NIT), Tiruchirapalli
- Presidency College, Kolkata
- Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
- Joint Astronomy Programme (in DU), Delhi
- Osmania University, Hyderabad
Apart from your formal education needed to be an astronomer, there are various skills that you will require. Some of them are:
- Critical thinking
- Interest in physics & math
- Analytical skills
- Data interpretation
- Research skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Active learning
- Financial resource management
Being an astronomer
Depending on your preference, you can either choose to work in the field or choose the academic route to educate others. Some of the opportunities that you can consider are:
You can work at an observatory
Observatories will offer you an opportunity to interact with the public in the role of a resident astronomer. The job generally entails curating astronomy exhibits and writing books or papers on specific areas in the field of astronomy.
You can apply for positions in the aerospace or computer science industry
These positions offer the option to work in an area other than academia. This may be an ideal role for you if you prefer to work directly with other astronomers and scientists.
Apply for positions at a space agency
Working for a space agency will allow you to collaborate with other scientists and astronomers on the study of the universe and various known and unknown elements of space.
You can teach others about space
No, astronomers don’t just work at NASA. If you aspire to become an astronomer, a career goal could be to work at NASA, but there are various other roles that you can experience as an astronomer, depending on your field. If you want to teach, a typical classroom setting would be common. Oftentimes, you would also be invited to give talks and conduct seminars at different institutions.
You can research big questions about the universe
Working in an office usually involves doing administrative work or research work. Research could involve calibrating and analyzing data, running numerical models, or testing out different theories. Much time is spent in front of a computer, therefore familiarity with computers and programming is a necessity if you’re considering this career. Astronomers also spend a lot of their time reading new subjects and writing research papers and might also have to travel several times for meetings and conferences.
We recommend looking for job opportunities in the field of astronomy in both government and private sectors at these top-tier institutions:
- IUCAA: Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics
- BARC: Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
- TIFAC: Technology, Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council
- ISRO: Indian Space Research Organisation
- IIA: Indian Institute of Astrophysics
- NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Astronomers can expect a high salary package. An individual with decent experience in the field can expect an average salary of 9 – 10 lakhs annually. Pay packages in the field of astronomy depend upon the field/specialization that you choose. For instance, a professor’s salary might differ from a researcher’s. The pay might also vary based on experience, qualifications and level of understanding of the field.
Pros & cons of being an astronomer
Like almost every other career path, the field of astronomy also has its own set of benefits and challenges. Let’s discuss some of them:
- You get a chance to discover new planets, solar systems, and life forms that are not yet known
- You get to study the wonders of the universe and observe celestial objects that exist beyond our knowledge
- Once your research paper on a particular topic gets published in a technical journal, it will be there as a resource for years to come and can be used by many people for reference and study
- You will often get to learn something new and interesting
- There is a lot of studying and formal education needed to be an astronomer
- Despite your best efforts, you may not discover something new to contribute
- You have to work alone for long hours, which can get monotonous
The investment into being an astronomer may be hefty, but the payload is well worthwhile. If you are considering pursuing a career in astronomy, know that a bright future is waiting for you.
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