“Twinkle twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are? ” Do you remember this nursery rhyme? Unarguably the first time you questioned those “tiny” things in the sky. The mysteries of space have always been a central interest to human beings. Our ancestors have been studying space for a long time. So, if learning about space gives you goosebumps and you claim to understand Interstellar, this blog is definitely for you.
Astrophysics vs Astronomy:
First, let’s clarify the difference between astronomy and astrophysics. Astronomy is the observational study of celestial objects and events, while astrophysics is the theoretical understanding of the physical processes behind them. Astronomers study celestial objects and their behavior, while astrophysicists study the physical processes that govern the universe. An astronomer usually collects data and plays with it to make it understandable to other scientists. But an astrophysicist understands and makes mathematical models based on that data. Astronomy and astrophysics go hand in hand. Sometimes astronomy verifies astrophysical theories, while other times, astrophysical theories make astronomical data sensible.
Some famous astronomers are Galileo, Aryabhatta, Sir Eddington, etc. And some popular astrophysicists are S. Chandrashekhar, Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, Edwin Hubble, etc. If you love to make observations, play with data, and spend nights under the sky looking through your telescope, and cloudy skies make you angry, then you are in love with astronomy.
To become an astronomer, you will need a solid foundation in mathematics, physics, and computer science. You must have a bachelor’s degree in astronomy, physics, or a related field. Some universities also offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in astronomy. Astronomy is a very advanced field of Science; thus, you will be required to pursue a master’s or even Ph.D. degree. It’s very advantageous if you are familiar with programming. Graduate school allows you to specialize in a specific area of astronomy and gain in-depth knowledge and hands-on research experience.
There are many institutes in India providing degrees in Astronomy and Astrophysics. You can go for either Basic Sciences Or Engineering. Some of them are:
- Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru
- Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram
- Indian Institute of Science Education Research, Thiruvananthapuram
- Centre for Excellence in Space Science India, IISER-Kolkata
- Old IITs( Roorkee, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Bombay, Delhi, etc.)
- Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad
- Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune
You can pursue Ph.D. or apply to foreign Universities after graduating from these institutes. IIST is linked to the Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) and offers jobs once you finish your bachelor’s. If you wish to get a job in astronomy, consider applying there.
Astronomers typically conduct independent research and work in teams, so gaining research experience is essential. Some projects may require a single astronomer to gather data and perform the analysis, while others may require collaboration with multiple astronomers to design and carry out observations or simulations. For example, the first image of a black hole was a joint effort of numerous astronomers and scientists all over the globe, while the discovery of the first exoplanet was made by a single astronomer Dr. Aleksander Wolszczan. Teamwork and collaboration also allow astronomers to exchange ideas, challenge each other’s assumptions, and pool resources, which can lead to more robust and innovative research.
It’s advantageous to participate in summer research programs, internships, or volunteer opportunities that allow you to work with practicing astronomers and gain hands-on experience with research tools and techniques. You must try to apply for postgraduate programs in top universities like MIT, Stanford, Max Planck, Caltech, Cambridge, etc because the research opportunities there are better than in India. If you want to know more about internship opportunities, check out our other blogs.
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Apart from your course curriculum, invest yourself in building a solid network to connect with astronomers in your field. Try joining various astronomy-centered cubs and discord servers. Stay in touch with the professors or experts you meet during your internship programs. Build a strong and updated LinkedIn profile. This can help you build relationships, learn about new developments in the industry and make connections that can lead to job opportunities.
Astronomy is an ever-evolving field, and staying abreast of the latest research and developments is essential. Read journal articles, attend conferences, and join professional organizations to stay informed. People in these fields are usually generous, you can always get in touch with them, and they will never hesitate to help you.
Astronomers work in universities, research institutions, government agencies, or private industries. Look for jobs in these areas and consider applying for postdoctoral positions to gain additional experience and build your resume. Top space organizations like NASA or ISRO prefer individuals with higher education.
The job of an astronomer varies depending on the skills they have. Some of them are:
- Planetary Scientist:- a type of scientist who studies planets and other celestial bodies within our solar system and beyond. This may include studying the atmospheres and surfaces of planets, the composition and behavior of moons and asteroids, and the potential for life on other worlds. You can opt for Earth and Planetary Science courses offered by various institutes in India. A planetary scientist gets to work in science centers and on space missions by space agencies. Their salaries usually depend on qualifications and the sector they are working in. Governmental sectors like ISRO provide more income as compared to private ones.
- Observatory Technician:- an observatory technician maintains and operates the instruments and equipment at an astronomical observatory. They ensure proper working conditions for the telescopes, cameras, and other equipment. The availability of jobs and individuals’ qualifications decide their income.
- Professor/Teacher:- You can also work in universities or colleges as a professor, assistant professor or lab assistant. Once you are qualified enough and have researched astronomy or astrophysics, you can apply to the universities mentioned above. On average, a professor at a government-funded university in India can expect to earn between ₹500,000 to ₹2,000,000 per year, while a professor at a private university may earn more.
- Data Scientist:- a data scientist analyses large amounts of data collected from telescopes and other astronomical instruments. They extract meaningful insights from the data that can advance our understanding of the universe. All those high-quality images from the Hubble or James Webb Telescope that you see on the Internet are, in fact, UV/IR signals converted to visual images. This is an example of a data scientist’s job. The average income of a data scientist is around ₹800,000 to ₹2,000,000 per year, but it depends on the company they are working with, cities, experience and various other factors.
- Defence:- Organizations focussed on research and innovations for the defence of the nation offers jobs to highly qualified space scientists. You can work on various satellite systems, ammunition, and aeronautics, strengthening the nation’s defence. Job availability depends on the projects approved by the government. On average, you can initially get a salary of ₹700,000 per annum, along with insurance and retirement benefits.
Remember, becoming an astronomer takes time and dedication. However, with hard work and persistence, you can gain expertise and achieve your goal of working in this exciting and dynamic field. If you want to work in space organisations like ISRO/NASA/ESA/etc., check out our other blogs on this topic.