Careers in Astronomy

A degree in astronomy, astronomy and physics, or geophysics and planetary sciences prepares students for careers in science education, science management, scientific computing, scientific instrumentation, or science writing (some of which may require one or two years of graduate study). Qualification for such fields is enhanced when students work in the research groups of astronomy professors as work-study, student employment, and/or directed study participants. The opportunity to do so has expanded considerably in recent years as the astronomy faculty has increased in number and in the scope of research projects.

Astronomy Requirements

1). Do one of the following:

  • Explain how to safely observe the Sun, objects near the Sun, and the Moon.
  • Explain what light pollution is and how it and air pollution affect astronomy.

2). With the aid of diagrams (or real telescopes if available), do each of the following:

  • Explain why binoculars and telescopes are important astronomical tools. Explain how these tools are used.
  • Describe the similarities and differences of several types of astronomical telescopes, including at least one that observes light beyond the visible part of the spectrum (i.e., radio, X-ray, ultraviolet, or infrared).
  • Explain the purposes of at least three instruments used with astronomical telescopes.
  • Describe the proper care and storage of telescopes and binoculars both at home and in the field.

3). Do one of the following:

A. Identify in the sky at least 10 constellations, at least four of which are in the zodiac.

B. Identify in the sky at least eight conspicuous stars, five of which are of magnitude 1 or brighter.

C. Make two sketches of the Big Dipper. In one sketch, show the Big Dipper’s orientation in the early evening sky. In another sketch, show its position several hours later. In both sketches, show the North Star and the horizon. Record the date and time each sketch was made.

D. Explain what we see when we look at the Milky Way.

4). Do one of the following:

  • List the names of the five most visible planets. Explain which ones can appear in phases similar to lunar phases and which ones cannot, and explain why.
  • Using the Internet and other resources, find out when each of the five most visible planets that you identified in requirement 5a will be observable in the evening sky during the next 12 months. Then compile this information in the form of a chart or table.
  • Identify at least one red star, one blue star, and one yellow star (other than the Sun). Explain the meaning of these colors.
  • Describe sunspots and some of the effects they may have on solar radiation.

Do one of the following:

5a). Plan and participate in a three-hour observation session that includes using binoculars or a telescope. List the celestial objects you want to observe and find each on a star chart or in a guidebook. Prepare an observing log or notebook. Discuss with your counselor what you hope to observe prior to your observation session. Review your log or notebook with your counselor afterward.

5b). Take a series of photographs or digital images of the movement of the Moon, a planet, an asteroid, meteor, or a comet. In your visual display, label each image and include the date and time it was taken. Show all positions on a star chart or map. Show your display in class. Explain the changes you observed.

5c). Find out about three career opportunities in astronomy. Choose one and find out the education, training, and experience required for this profession. Discuss this with your counselor, and explain why this profession might interest you.