What Skills Does It Take To Be An Astronomer

Astronomers study the planets, the stars, other galaxies and other heavenly bodies.

Astronomy is a science that studies celestial objects. These include planets, moons and other objects in our solar system; other stars and their planets; the Milky Way and other galaxies; more exotic objects such as quasars and black holes; and the large-scale structure of the universe. Astronomers examine the movements of heavenly bodies, investigate their composition and interactions, and speculate about their origin and ultimate fate.

The Basics

Astronomy is a broad field with a number of different areas of interest. Planetary science, for instance, looks at the structure and evolution of planets and satellites, both in our own solar system and around other stars. Stellar astronomy examines the composition and life cycle of stars, while galactic astronomy focuses on the structure and interaction of vast collections of stars. Cosmology studies the large-scale structure of the entire universe and attempts to explain its birth and evolution.

Observation and Theory

Each of the astronomy fields can be approached in two different ways. Observational astronomy, for one, involves the use of specialized instruments such as telescopes to gather information about heavenly bodies. In addition to visible light, this data can be obtained through other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum such as infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, radio waves and gamma rays, and even by means of neutrinos and gravitational waves.

Meanwhile, theoretical astronomy goes from the other direction. Theoretical astronomers attempt to develop physical and mathematical models to explain phenomena in the universe. They then look for evidence in the observational data to support their theories.

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Minimum Qualifications

Since astronomy is a natural science that studies physical phenomena, it is best described as a branch of physics. Astronomers typically study a great deal of physics and mathematics at the college level. Usually, they will take courses in mechanics, electromagnetism, optics and quantum mechanics. In mathematics, astronomers need a significant degree of training beyond calculus; nearly all astronomers will have taken differential equations, probability and statistics, linear algebra, mathematical modeling and the calculus of variations. Following these, they proceed to master’s and doctoral studies in their particular fields of interest.

Related Knowledge

In addition to the physical and mathematical basics, astronomers generally take additional courses in areas that touch on their own subfields. Planetary astronomers, for instance, need to learn about geology and mineralogy, while stellar astronomers study chemistry and fluid dynamics.

Finally, both observational and theoretical astronomy are heavily dependent upon computers. Telescopes and other observational methods require knowledge of networking and data analysis, while theoretical astronomers make use of detailed computer modeling and simulations. Therefore, astronomers require significant knowledge of computer science.