Educator Features

Astronomy As a Profession
Cartoon drawing of a telescope and a book with stars in the background
What's it like being an astronomer?
Like most astronomers, days are spent mostly in front of a computer. All of the data is in digital form, stored on computer tapes and disks. Astronomers manipulate and plot the data and theoretical models on the computers to try to discover what is going on. Most observations are done using satellites.

Image to right: Astronomers today use satellites and computers to observe and compute data. Credit: NASA

What are different aspects of an astronomer's job?
Think of the universe as a puzzle that has to be pieced together. Every new discovery made is fitted to another piece of the puzzle. It is very unusual in today's day and age for an astronomer not to have a good to very good background in computers and programming. There can be travel to remote sites for observations on a regular basis, as well as considerable travel to other cities to meet other astronomers. Other job responsibilities include designing, building, testing and flying various scientific instruments. After the instruments have flown, astronomers analyze the scientific data to figure out what's been learned from the experiment and where to look for the next piece of the puzzle.

How much math do astronomers use?
In this day and age, a professional astronomer uses math all the time. It ranges from the trivial, like unit conversion (what is the velocity of a star in kilometers per second as opposed to miles per hour), to the very advanced.

Are there more men or women astronomers?
While the majority of astronomers are men, the percentage of women entering the field is growing.

For more information on what an astronomer does -- as well as information on how to become an astronomer -- please visit the Imagine the Universe Web site.

Excerpted from Imagine the Universe