top of page

Career in Astronomy


According to Wikipedia, Astronomy (from Greek: ἀστρονομία) is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets. Relevant phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates outside Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy. It studies the Universe as a whole.


An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets and galaxies – in either observational (by analyzing the data) or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.

Astronomers usually fall under either of two main types: observational and theoretical. Observational astronomers make direct observations of celestial objects and analyze the data. In contrast, theoretical astronomers create and investigate models of things that cannot be observed. Because it takes millions to billions of years for a system of stars or a galaxy to complete a life cycle, astronomers must observe snapshots of different systems at unique points in their evolution to determine how they form, evolve, and die. They use these data to create models or simulations to theorize how different celestial objects work.


There are various requirements for an Astronomer that they need to fulfil to pursue a career in Astronomy. The requirements are classified under three heads

  1. EDUCATION: Careers in Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A) can be broadly divided as Theoretical or Observational though, in order to make significant contribution to the subject you have to be good at both. Theoretical research career in A & A typically involves doing a Masters in physics, or Bachelors in Engineering or Technology with thorough basic knowledge in physics and mathematics, joining a suitable institution or university for a Ph.D. programme in A & A, following it up with one or two postdoctoral positions and - finally - obtaining a permanent job.

  2. Among the leading institutes in this country

  • Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore (IIA),

  • Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc),

  • National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Pune (NCRA-TIFR),

  • Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune (IUCAA),

  • Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad (PRL),

  • Raman Research Institute, Bangalore (RRI) and

  • Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (TIFR)

have graduate students programmes in A & A leading to a Ph.D Institutions like

  • Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad (HRI)and

  • The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai (IMSc)

are actively expanding into this area and will certainly encourage theoretical research in A & A. There are also several universities, which have faculty members working on A & A, not to mention the Indian of Institute(s) of Technology. On the observational side, the scope is somewhat wider because even students with engineering degree (or knowledge of computer systems and electronics) are also encouraged to apply for the graduate student's programme in many of the above places. For example, IUCAA takes B.E. and B.Tech students for its graduate school and allows them to do an M.Sc. by research prior to doing a Ph.D. The scope for experimental astronomy in this country is somewhat limited compared to theory, but this situation is likely to change within the next 5 years or so. The key point to remember is that A & A is a branch of physics and you need to have a strong foundation in physics and mathematics in order to have a successful career in A & A. Joint Entrance Screening Test (JEST) For Ph.D. Programmes in Physics / Mathematics / Theoretical Computer Science

  1. SKILLS: According to the BLS, astronomers must have the ability to solve complex problems, conduct research, and accurately analyze data. They need strong math and science skills, along with being about to work within a team. It also helps to have knowledge of specific science-related software programs.


    • Physics - Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.

    • Mathematics - Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.

    • Computers and Electronics - Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

    • English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.

    • Education and Training - Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.

    • Engineering and Technology - Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.

    • Chemistry - Knowledge of the chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo. This includes uses of chemicals and their interactions, danger signs, production techniques, and disposal methods.

    • Administration and Management - Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modelling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.


Astronomers apply the principles of physics and mathematics to learn more about the universe. They gather data on the characteristics of planets, moons, stars, and other objects using telescopes and computer programs. Astronomers usually specialize in certain types of celestial bodies or events, such as black holes or planetary systems. Typical duties include developing and testing scientific theories, analyzing data, and writing research proposals. They also spend time composing scientific papers and presenting their findings to others in the field.

Most astronomers work within a team of scientists. They usually work full time, although research may also be conducted at night when some objects are more visible. Astronomers primarily work in offices. They may be required to work in observatories or to travel internationally to facilities with specialized equipment. They also travel when presenting research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), scientific research and development services employed the majority of astronomers in 2018, while others worked for colleges, universities, and professional federal executive branch.


  • Analytical Thinking - Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.

    • Initiative - Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.

    • Persistence - Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.

    • Achievement/Effort - Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.

    • Innovation - Job requires creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for and answers to work-related problems.

    • Independence - Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.

    • Integrity - Job requires being honest and ethical.

    • Attention to Detail - Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.

    • Dependability - Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.

    • Stress Tolerance - Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high stress situations.

    • Adaptability/Flexibility - Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.

    • Cooperation - Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.

    • Leadership - Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.

    • Self-Control - Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behaviour, even in very difficult situations.


According to, the average Astronomer Salary in India is ₹1,550,000.

The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for astronomers was ₹1,550,000 in 2018. The projected employment growth for astronomers was 5% from 2018-2028, below the national average for all occupations. Central Government spending on astronomy research varies from year to year, and the relatively low amount of funding available for many positions can limit the number of jobs in the field. Additionally, competition is expected to be strong for permanent jobs and research grants.

Astronomers study our universe and need to have a Ph.D., along with a strong understanding of physics and math.


I'm in grade/middle/high school. What do I need to do to become an astronomer? I advise you to take as much math as you can. Having high school calculus under your belt will make your first physics classes much easier. Physics and other sciences should be a priority, too, but don't neglect other classes. Astronomers still need to be good writers and communicators, and good grades across the board are necessary for college admission and scholarships.

What kind of schooling is necessary for an astronomer? First you'll go to college for four (or maybe five) years to get a bachelor's degree. A bachelor of science (BS) in astronomy is best, but you can still get into grad school with a bachelor of arts (BA), or a degree in physics or even other fields.     It's important to get good grades in college and to score well on your Graduate Record Exam (a big ugly standardized physics test you take your senior year), but what really makes candidates for grad school standout is their research experience. As soon as you can, hook up with one of your professors and start working on a research project. You might work on data analysis, instrument building, computer programming, or lots of other fun stuff. Also be alert to opportunities like the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, where you work at another university for a summer, or the summer student programs at the national astronomy observatories.     After college comes graduate school. You'll take more classes at first, and then shift into doing more research, and culminating in a doctoral thesis. You'll probably get some experience in front of a classroom by being a teaching assistant. It's really hard work, but to avoid scaring the pants off you, I'll smile stiffly and repeat what I've been told so many times: These are the best years of your life. You will be enjoying the best years of your life for five or six years (or more, or less, in some exceptional cases.)

What's the best college for astronomy? In my opinion, it doesn't matter where you get your undergraduate degree, as long as you do research as an undergraduate. When you're shopping for colleges, I suggest that you look for one that offers an astronomy major (not just a minor) and ask about undergraduate opportunities for research. Some people say that Caltech or MIT are the only places to go, but they're just snobs. : ) You can save a lot of money at a state school.

What kinds of jobs do astronomers get? After getting their doctoral degree, most astronomers take a number of short term jobs called "postdocs" which last a two years or so each. During this time, they're doing research and publishing papers to establish themselves. After some number of postdocs, they can then find a position on the faculty of a college or university, where they teach and do research, or they can get a position at a research institution. I've also known a couple of PhD's who got faculty positions right out of graduate school.

Aren't jobs in astronomy scarce? I really love astronomy, but I'm afraid I won't be able to find a job after I graduate! While the job search can definitely be a harrowing process, most of the people I know who have graduated recently have found good positions, one way or another. If astronomy is what you really want to do, go for it! If you are willing to be flexible, it is unlikely that you will end up unemployed.     Also, the training astronomers receive is in high demand in other fields. Astronomers learn to be problem solvers and pick up lots of math and computer skills. People who are trained as scientists are in high demand as "management consultants." (Now, please, don't ask me what a management consultant does, because I'm not quite sure.) So if the whole astronomy thing doesn't work out, it's not like you've completely wasted the last ten years learning obscure and totally unpractical skills.

How much money do astronomers make? According to the American Institute of Physics the average salary for a Physics PhD. was about $70,000 in 1998. A post-doc right out of graduate school is about $34,000 a year in physics. Salaries for astronomers are comparable.

What skills to astronomers need to have? Astronomers need to be good at physics and math; that's what they do! Don't fall into the trap of thinking that astronomy is one of the "easier" sciences! Astronomers work a lot with computers so good computer and programming skills are helpful. Some astronomers build their own instruments, so they learn about electronics, materials fabrication, and machining, and other skills.     Astronomers need good teaching skills as well, since they teach as much as they learn. They also need good writing skills so they can write grant proposals to get money and telescope time for their projects, and they share their research by writing articles for journals. They must have good communications skills as well. Very few papers in journals have just one author, since astronomers generally work in teams with various colleagues, so they need to be able to share information and get along with different people.

How much time to astronomers spend looking through telescopes? Nowadays, the bulk of the work astronomers do is on computers. They spend a small portion of their time at telescopes actually taking data. Astronomically-useful telescopes rarely have eyepieces you can look through. Radio, ultraviolet, or infrared telescopes collect light that you can't even see with your eye! Telescopes that collect visible light often have electronic cameras called CCD cameras that create an image in a computer. Many telescopes are used to create a spectrum (the light is split into a rainbow, and the brightness of each colour is measured). Radio telescopes record signals that astronomers can reconstruct using a computer to make an image or a spectrum. Astronomers spend weeks or months or years analyzing their data using computers. They also do calculations that help them understand what they're seeing, and then write papers about their results to share what they've found with other astronomers. Some astronomers never even make observations. They just work along with observational astronomers to make theoretical computer models. On the other hand, some astronomers work at observatories, making observations for other astronomers or helping visiting astronomers use the equipment.

What's the best thing about being an astronomer? Definitely the very best thing about being an astronomer is doing what you love for a living. It's very satisfying to solve a problem, or to discover something that nobody ever knew before. Some other nice things are being self-directed in pursuing the research that most interests you, and frequent travel to conferences, meetings, and observatories.

What's the difference between astronomy and astrophysics? Technically speaking, astronomy is the science of measuring the positions and characteristics of heavenly bodies, and astrophysics is the application of physics to understand astronomy. However, nowadays, the two terms are more or less interchangeable since all astronomers generally use physics to understand their findings. (My husband tells people I'm an astrophysicist because sometimes when he says I'm an astronomer they think I do astrology.)

What's the difference between astronomy and astrology? Astrology is a pseudo-science which claims that the positions of the heavenly bodies have an effect on the lives of human beings and events on Earth. Astrology has many of the trappings of real science, like math and complicated diagrams and a specialized vocabulary, but astrologers do not follow the scientific method. Real scientists make careful measurements in well-controlled studies. Astrologers don't do experiments to prove their theories. Instead, they like to provide anecdotal evidence -- stories people tell about how accurate they think astrology is. Anecdotal evidence is not acceptable in a real science because it's too easy to leave out all the negative experiences people have, and people not very good at recalling and accurately reporting experiences. Don't refer to an astronomer as an astrologer!

What about books and syllabus of A & A? There is no single book or syllabus in A & A which a student is expected to read and follow. In fact, most institutions will examine you on your physics and mathematics background and will admit you to the graduate school even if you know nothing of A & A. This is necessary because our M.Sc. courses in physics do not give adequate emphasis to A & A compared to, for example, solid state physics or nuclear physics. This situation may change over the next decade or so but at present, it is enough if you concentrate on the regular M.Sc. physics syllabus.

What should I study to prepare for the examinations? The graduate school programme in most of the leading institutions expects you to be good at physics and mathematics with an aptitude and motivation to do research. The latter is difficult to define but essentially it involves an ability to apply your basic knowledge to unfamiliar areas and come out with logically consistent conclusions. In short, you should be able to think on your own and should be confident in using the basic principles of physics and the techniques of mathematics which you have learnt in any area. In the best institutes, the examination is designed in such a way that no specific preparation is necessary or even useful. The idea is not to run a memory test or investigate your knowledge base but to see how good you are in using the knowledge which you possess. Of course this is the ideal situation. If the examination is not up to the mark, you may be straddled with questions which require memorizing of some key formulas, etc. The general technique of preparation can be similar to that you will adopt for JEE or GRE or for any other multiple choice objective type test.

bottom of page