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Astronomer Profile


This Section of the site details information that you might find useful if you are looking to secure employment or require further details regarding working as an Astronomer. This page details the following Information:-

  • Finding Suitable Work as an Astronomer
  • Working Duties Expected
  • Hours and Environment
  • Working Skills Required
  • Training Requirements
  • Salary Expectations
  • Trade Information
  • Other useful Astronomer Work Information

Finding Suitable Work

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Working Duties Expected

Astronomers use a wide range of scientific techniques to study celestial bodies and their composition, motion, and origin. Advances in astronomy are made through research - defining a question, gathering relevant data, formulating a hypothesis, and then testing the predictions of that hypothesis. Computers feature prominently in all aspects of astronomers' work. Most astronomers specialise in addressing a particular question or area of astronomy such as planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin and evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. The work can be divided into two main areas:

Observational astronomy
This involves designing and using telescopes or instruments on satellites and spacecraft to collect and analyse data, allowing theories to be tested. The data received is often a colour spectrum image of the intensity and distribution of light emitted or reflected, and astronomers may develop software to interpret this information.

Theoretical astronomy
This involves creating complex computer models to develop theories on the physical processes occurring in space. Using the results of previous observations, new predictions and hypotheses are developed for testing by future observations. Questioning the results in relation to what is currently known may then advance and develop ideas about events in the universe.

Astronomers may work on all stages of a project and are required to attend frequent meetings. On completion of their research, astronomers write reports and make presentations to disclose their results to colleagues. In observatories, there may be additional duties such as developing new instrumentation and maintaining existing equipment.

Most are also involved with teaching in universities, and this can form the larger part of an astronomer's work.

Hours and Environment

Astronomers may work long and irregular hours, including weekends and shifts - some projects require continuous attention. University teaching has no set hours but tends to take up anywhere from 18 to 30 hours a week, with additional time spent on preparing lectures.

Most of the work is desk-bound and involves extensive use of computers. There may be frequent travel, often overseas, to attend meetings and visit observatories.

Skills and Interests

To be an astronomer you should:

  • have good powers of observation
  • be methodical, logical, and able to make sound judgements
  • have the patience and determination to see projects through to completion often over several years
  • be able to analyse problems relating to mathematics and physics
  • be able to produce scientific reports for publication and have the confidence to make presentations about research results
  • have strong computer skills
  • be able to forge links with colleagues around the world.


To start, a degree in a subject such as physics, mathematics, astrophysics, geophysics or a related science subject is needed. Some universities offer courses in space science and technology. Entry to a degree course requires three A levels/four Highers including mathematics and physics, plus five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) including mathematics, English and science subjects. Alternative qualifications may be accepted.

For details of qualification equivalents see:

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
Scottish Qualifications Authority
An Access to Higher Education qualification may also be accepted for entry to certain courses. If experienced in a related field, you may be able to gain recognition of skills through Accredited Prior Learning (APL). Please check with colleges or universities for exact entry requirements.

Some degrees include a year's study overseas and/or experience of work in observatories. Those wishing to pursue a career as a professional research astronomer should ideally aim for a first or upper second class MSci or MPhys degree, and follow this with further study for a doctorate. The Royal Astronomical Society can provide a list of university research departments, the fields of research in which their interests lie, and the types of degrees offered.

The Society also offers information on courses for amateur enthusiasts, some of which can be studied by distance learning.

There is no upper age limit for entry to the career. It is possible for those with certain backgrounds, perhaps in mathematics, computer science or some branches of chemistry or engineering to transfer into this work.


Postgraduate training in astronomy and related fields is delivered by research departments in universities, and typically lasts for three years. The trainee works on a research project alongside senior research colleagues, and develops the skills and determination necessary for sustained individual research. After producing a thesis based on their findings, the student is interviewed at length about the work, and a PhD or other qualification may then be awarded.


Most of the opportunities for newly qualified astronomers are in short term research fellowships lasting between one and three years. These appointments can be in the UK or abroad and there is significant competition. About half of these positions lead to long term posts in research, often as academic members of staff with teaching duties in university departments. There are also posts at research laboratories such as the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories. Many jobs are overseas.

Other opportunities exist in maintaining and administering observatories, instrument development, aerospace industries, electronics and software engineering, teaching, scientific journalism, computing and accountancy.

Annual Income

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Junior research posts are salaried in the range £18,265 to £27,339 a year.
Senior researchers and those involved in lecturing may earn up to £40,000 a year.

Further information

The Royal Astronomical Society
Burlington House
Tel: 020 7734 4582

Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Polaris House
North Star Avenue
Tel: 01793 442000

Other Useful Astronomer Work Information

We have a section available at this site on Astronomer job interview tips that you may find of interest should you wish to brush up your skills in this area and we also have number of career articles that may also be of use to you from within our guides and documents section.

Locations where we feature Jobs include:-
Aberdeen, Berkshire, Aberdeen, Bath, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Central London, Cheltenham, Cornwall, Coventry, Derby, Devon, Docklands, Dorset, Dundee, Durham, East Midlands, East Sussex, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Gloucester, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leeds, Leicester, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Midlands and in various parts of the West Midlands

Details of other Astronomer Jobs can also be found in other UK wide areas including:-
Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Norfolk, North London, North Midlands, Northampton, Northamptonshire, Northern Ireland, Northumberland, Norwich, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Plymouth, Salisbury, Scotland, Sheffield, Shropshire, Somerset, South East, South London, South Midlands, Southampton, Staffordshire Surrey, Swansea, Swindon, Telford, Wales, Warwickshire, West End, West London, West Midlands, Worcestershire, York and throughout Yorkshire.

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