What Does an Astronomer Do?

-- | April 12, 2015

Question: What exactly does an astronomer do? I am 14 and I am planning to become a research astronomer. I would like to know what a research astronomer does… like what does an astronomer trying to find out more about the Big Bang do? Also, how do you know what to do when you first start your job at a University… do a boss or colleagues tell you what to do? Finally, I would like to know some of the most famous Universities for astronomy. Thank you!  — Bethany

Answer: You should check out my Careers in Astronomy page for questions on just this subject that have been answered in the past.  In summary, astronomers are basically physicists that study how the universe works.  Observational astronomers use telescopes to study the properties of things like the Big Bang and interpret those observations, using their knowledge of physics, to help us further understand the properties and evolution of the Big Bang.  Astronomers who specialize in theory use the laws of physics to derived a theoretical understanding of things like the Big Bang which explains it properties and evolution using observations to constrain their theories.  Most astronomers learn “the ropes”, or how to be astronomers, when they are working on their PhD while in graduate school from their research advisor and other faculty and colleagues.  Finally, as for the most “famous” universities for astronomy, there are many.  Different universities with astronomy programs specialize in a wide variety of research areas.  For graduate study one generally chooses a school based on your specific research interests.

Jeff Mangum