Physical Sciences

Astronomers, also known as Astrophysicists, are highly qualified individuals responsible for the research of space and the design, development and use of space and satellite technology.

Work Activities

Astronomers are highly qualified, mostly to Doctorate (PhD) level and possess a keen interest in researching and understanding how the universe works, through the use of observatories and satellite technology.

Typical responsibilities may include:

  • researching and analysing data from telescopes and satellites
  • developing and researching complex theories
  • publishing and presenting research at conferences
  • teaching at universities
  • supporting the design and development of space related software systems and equipment.

Strong mathematical and scientific understanding are essential, in addition to the ability to research and solve complex mathematical and technical problems. Strong coding and computing skills are important too. Astronomers often have to present their research internationally, so excellent communication skills are important and foreign language skills are a bonus.

Flexibility is important as many astronomers work at observatories and space agencies internationally, some work may take place in laboratories and offices.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills for astronomers

  • complex problem solving abilities
  • excellent written and spoken communication skills
  • highly numerate and analytical
  • strong computing and coding skills
  • ability to work in a team

Pay And Opportunities

Astronomy careers are highly competitive and opportunities are limited, which means that astronomers may have to pursue their careers outside the UK, often providing fantastic opportunities to travel. While the UK is home to a number of observatories and telescopes, much leading research is also carried out in the United States, Chile, Australia, in addition to several European and Asian countries.

Some astronomers may focus on observational astronomy, measuring electromagnetic effects and collecting and analysing the data using telescopes and radio based tools and equipment. Others may specialise in theoretical astronomy using complex theory, science and models to research galaxies.

Many astronomy graduates choose to become engineers, often in the aeronautical sector or share their advanced knowledge through teaching at schools, colleges and universities.

Typical employers of astronomers and astrophysicists

  • international space agencies and observatories
  • universities and research institutes
  • engineering companies
  • technology and communication companies
  • government agencies
  • professional associations
  • planetariums and space related visitor attractions
  • armed services


Qualifications and training required

Excellent GCSE grades are required followed by A Levels/ IB Higher Level/4-5 Scottish Highers A-B /3 Advanced Highers for applications outside Scotland requiring Maths and Physics and usually another science.

An undergraduate degree is usually completed in Maths, Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy, Computer Science or Chemistry related subjects, some of which may offer the opportunity to study abroad or complete a one year work placement.

A First Class or 2.1 is usually required to complete a masters qualification, which generally takes one year to complete on a full time basis, enabling students to develop their knowledge and research further.

A PhD (Doctorate) usually takes three years to complete on a full time basis in the UK.

Some researchers then complete post-doctoral research, which is often dependent of funding being available.

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