What Does an Astronomer Do? With Skills and Salary

Updated 15 July 2023

Astronomers are fundamental to society's understanding of the universe and its origins. They solve complex mathematical problems and work collaboratively with the scientific community to further our understanding of the universe. You may find a career as an astronomer fulfilling if you enjoy intensive problem solving and have a passion for space theory and understanding what an astronomer does can help you decide whether this career suits your skills. In this article, we explore what an astronomer does, explain their workplace environment, state their potential salary, describe key job requirements and list needed skills.

Related: Astronomer vs Astrophysicist (Differences and Similarities)

What does an astronomer do?

Defining this profession can help you answer 'What does an astronomer do?' An astronomer is a scientific professional who relies on research and observes space through telescopes to analyse the universe, its contents and its origins. These scientists gather information to understand the planets and their features, such as which planets can potentially support life. A crucial part of an astronomer's work is conducting thorough research and analyses using specialised equipment like radios and satellites to establish a science curriculum for educational institutions. Astronomers can specialise in one of five specific fields of astronomy:

  • Planetary astronomy: focus on studying planets, including their features and discovering new planetary systems

  • Solar astronomy: focus on the Sun and its influence on the planets and systems around it

  • Galactic astronomy: focus on studying galaxies and their features, discovering new galaxies and calculating the probability of discovering galaxies

  • Stellar astronomy: focus on studying the stars and their lifecycle, including the resultant black holes

  • Cosmology: focus on studying the origin of the universe and attempt to predict its likely future based on how it began

Related: 8 Rewarding Careers in Science to Consider (With Benefits)

Astronomers' duties

The number and types of duties that astronomers perform depends on the current research projects or publications they're working on and the type of facility where they work. Astronomers can work in several settings, such as universities, research facilities, space exploration companies and government facilities. Below are some general duties astronomers may perform:


Astronomers conduct in-depth research into the origins of the universe. This provides a solid foundation for their theories. They then translate these ideas into written articles based on their findings. They also conduct research to help them solve complex mathematical problems.


Astronomers spend a lot of time observing space through space-based telescopes, helping them track star life cycles and the behaviours of planets and stars, such as tracking storms and solar flares. They also use their observations to gather crucial data to include in their academic publications.


Astronomers need funding and access to research facilities, resources and personnel to conduct research. If an astronomer generates a new theory, they write a proposal, which includes the research topic, theory and methodology they plan to use to prove their theory. They present the proposal to an academic board to request the resources they need for their research project.


Some astronomers teach university classes while working on their projects. Teaching includes marking assignments, providing guidance, feedback and organising the curriculum. They may also help students find employment by writing references and helping candidates find suitable employers.

Related: 9 Careers in Space Science (With Duties and Salaries)

Average astronomer salary

The national average salary of an astronomer or astrophysicist is $95,618 per year, fluctuating depending on their employer. For example, an astronomer working for a university may have different compensation than an astronomer working for an aerospace company. Astronomers may release research papers or books on new scientific findings and their sales can significantly impact their annual salary. They may teach part time or full time at universities.

An astronomer's level of education can also affect their salary as professionals with doctorates may find roles with more competitive benefits because of their level of expertise and experience. You can increase your salary prospects by gaining additional qualifications and experience or seeking multiple forms of income by working with several research institutes or educational facilities.

Related: 24 Careers in STEM

Job requirements

To become an astronomer, you first obtain a qualification. The level of qualification and experience that hiring managers require depends on the type of employer, so it's important to study the job advertisement thoroughly before applying. Here are two ways you can improve your chances of securing a position as an astronomer:


You can study to achieve an undergraduate degree, such as a Bachelor of Science, majoring in astrophysics or astronomy. This degree can give you a comprehensive understanding of astronomical theory and the origins of the universe. Here, you can develop critical thinking and mathematical skills to generate academic theories and observe space using specialised equipment. You may also benefit from pursuing a master's and PhD in astrophysics to improve your chances of success in a competitive market that relies on high subject expertise.

Related: How to Write an Astronomer Cover Letter (With Example)


It's essential to join professional bodies as an astronomer because this helps you stay informed about topical events in the industry. Consider joining the Astronomical Society of Australia when looking for a job. Through this, you can expand your professional network by meeting other astronomers through organised events like conferences. Networking is a crucial tool for finding employment, allowing you to connect with professionals currently hiring or know of employers looking for new astronomers.

Skills for an astronomer

Astronomers use a combination of hard and soft skills to succeed in their primary responsibilities. These skills help you complete your tasks and foster positive working relationships with your colleagues. Employers may expect you to have gained knowledge and experience using some of these skills during your education. When applying for a position as an astronomer, ensure that you study the job description and advertisement thoroughly, giving you a good indication of what skills to include on your resume. Valuable skills include:

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hard skills

Hard skills are industry-specific skills necessary for astronomers to fulfil their primary job description. These skills include intensive subject-specific knowledge to conduct thorough research and prepare academic literature based on astronomy data. Astronomers typically develop these skills during their education. Candidates may undertake a PhD to increase their skill set. Hiring managers may expect you to have a basic understanding of these skills before short-listing you for interviews. Here are some examples of these hard skills:

  • Mathematics: When studying the universe, astronomers create complex equations to defend their theories. Constructing, calculating and explaining these equations to other academics requires comprehensive mathematical skills.

  • Physics: Astronomers require expert levels of knowledge of the laws of physics to understand the basic features of the universe, such as the life cycle of a star and complex subjects, such as background microwave radiation.

  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking skills help astronomers question original theories of the galaxy to generate new theories that may explain gaps in society's current knowledge of the universe. Critical thinking is also essential for solving mathematical problems.

  • Technical: Astronomers use various scientific equipment to process data, such as high-grade telescopes and high-power computers. It's important for astronomers to have good technical skills to use this equipment to its fullest extent and troubleshoot minor issues.

  • Scientific history: Astronomers require an in-depth understanding of the history of the universe, including previous academic findings, to more fully understand the universe and provide a basis for their own academic findings.

Soft skills

Soft skills are more general skills related to employability that enable astronomers to work effectively with their colleagues. You can develop these skills through experience and by building your confidence collaboratively with other astronomy professionals. Employers may expect astronomers to have a basic understanding of these soft skills but may allow candidates to develop them during their training period. Here are some examples of these soft skills:

  • Communication: Some astronomers publish academic material relating to their area of expertise. This requires comprehensive written and verbal communication skills to clearly and coherently convey their point and defend their findings to other academics.

  • Collaboration: As astronomers are often part of a team, collaboration skills help them cooperate on complex equations to solve them quickly and promote a positive working environment.

  • Concentration: Astronomers may spend hours or even days solving complex equations, which requires concentration skills to help them identify patterns in numbers and remain focused on their work.

  • Reasoning: As a panel of experts may require astronomers to defend their theories, strong reasoning and logical skills can convince the academics that their findings are accurate. Reasoning skills can help ensure they publish their ideas in research papers, such as theses and books.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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