Astronomers use a wide range of scientific techniques to study celestial bodies and their composition, motion, and origin. Advances in astronomy are made through research - defining a question, gathering relevant data, formulating a hypothesis, and then testing the predictions of that hypothesis. Computers feature prominently in all aspects of an astronomy. Most astronomers specialise in addressing a particular question or area of astronomy such as planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin and evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Astronomy can be divided into two main areas:
This involves designing and using telescopes or instruments on satellites and spacecraft to collect and analyse data, allowing theories to be tested. The data received is often a colour spectrum image of the intensity and distribution of light emitted or reflected, and astronomers may develop software to interpret this information.
This involves creating complex computer models to develop theories on the physical processes occurring in space. Using the results of previous observations, new predictions and hypothesis are developed for testing by future observations. Questioning the results in relation to what is currently known may then advance and develop ideas about events in the universe.
Astronomers may work on all stages of a project and are required to attend frequent meetings. On completion of their research, astronomers write reports and make presentations to disclose their results to colleagues. In observatories, there may be additional duties such as developing new instrumentation and maintaining existing equipment.
Many astronomers are also involved with teaching in universities, and this can form the larger part of an astronomer's work.
Astronomers may work long and irregular hours, including weekends and shifts - some projects require continuous attention. University teaching has no set hours but tends to take up anywhere from 18 to 30 hours a week, with additional time spent on preparing lectures.
Most of the work is desk-bound and involves extensive use of computers. There may be frequent travel, often overseas, to attend meetings and conferences, and visit observatories.
To be an astronomer, you should:
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Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
North Star Avenue
Tel: 01793 442000