Astronomer

Career outlook for

Figures and forecasts for roles at the same level, which require similar skills and qualifications.

Average UK salary

Currently employed in Scotland

Jobs forecast

This information is supplied by LMI For All, where data is currently available for Scotland.

What's it like?

You would observe and study huge stars and planets or tiny particles in space to help us understand more about how the universe works.

You'd take part in big research projects to look at objects and events in space. You'd collect data from the research and work out what it tells us about the origin and structure of the universe.

You'd use computers, optical and radio telescopes, spectroscopes, satellites, spacecraft and space probes to collect and analyse information.

You would:

  • Set up instruments to observe and measure features in space
  • Chart the appearance, position and movement, and structures of the sun, stars, planets and galaxies
  • Measure radiation coming from stars, planets, quasars and other matter in space
  • Develop models and use computer programs to interpret your findings
  • Describe and explain your findings
  • Make predictions and test them, perhaps developing new instruments or software for this
  • Keep detailed logs and records, and write reports
  • Keep the observatory in good condition and supervise the way it is run

You might specialise in observational and theoretical astronomy or focus on a particular topic, like planetary science or the formation of galaxies.

As well as working in laboratories and observatories, you could also work in a museum or planetarium, or teach and carry out research at a university.

You'd normally study for a postgraduate qualification such as a PhD when you are working as a professional astronomer. You'd go to conferences and keep up to date with new ideas and evidence.

Working conditions

Hours

You could work long and irregular hours, including weekends, evenings and nights, depending on the project you are part of and the observations you are making.

Travel

Your work is likely to include frequent travel to meetings and conferences, and to visit observatories within the UK and overseas. This could include travel to Europe, the USA and South America.

UK employment status

Full-time

Part-time

Self employed

Here are some of the skills needed for this job. Sign in to see how your skills match up.

  • Filtering
  • Attention to detail
  • Understanding
  • Analysing
  • Working with technology
  • Researching
  • Observation
  • Problem Solving
  • Evaluating

Build your skills

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you’ll need.

Foundation Apprenticeships

Choosing a Foundation Apprenticeship as one of your subjects in S5 and S6 can help you get a head start with this type of job.

You'll get an SCQF level 6 qualification (the same level as a Higher) plus valuable work placement experience and skills you can't learn in a classroom.

Interested? Find out what's on offer at your school on Apprenticeships.scot.

Qualifications

You would need an honours degree and postgraduate qualifications in astronomy or astrophysics (SCQF level 10 and 11). Some universities offer an Integrated Masters combining the degree and postgraduate courses over 5 years.

To enter an astronomy or astrophysics degree (SCQF Level 10) you need National 5 qualifications and Highers at AAAA or AAABB in first sitting or AAAAAB in two sittings.

Some universities may accept lower grades, such as BBBB, if you can demonstrate a deep interest, relevant skills and experience in astronomy and sciences.

Some universities may offer entry to the second year of a degree if you have Advanced Highers (SCQF level 7), a Scottish Baccalaureate in Science (SCQF level 7) or a relevant Higher National Certificate (SCQF level 7) or Higher National Diploma (SCQF level 8).

Useful subjects

  • Maths (required by most courses)
  • Physics (required by most courses)
  • Science subjects
  • English
  • Technologies subjects such as engineering

Helpful to have

A Foundation Apprenticeship (SCQF level 6) in Engineering or Laboratory Science can help build relevant skills and experience.

It may be possible to move into this field with a background in computer science, maths or from some branches of chemistry or engineering.            

An Open University Certificate in Astronomy and Planetary Science with flexible hours is available full-time over one year or part-time over two years. 

Once in work or qualified, registration with Royal Astronomical Society and/or membership of Science Council may be of value.