What is an Astrogeologist?

Question:  I am a sophomore and I have been fascinated with anything about space for as long as I can remember. I’m am currently researching about the astronomy careers. I plan to be an astro geologist and I’m still not sure what this job really involves or what it takes to pursue in this career. So can anyone tell me?  – Racheal

Answer:  Astrogeologists, as you might expect, combine the fields of astronomy and geology to study the terrain, composition, formation, and evolution of planets, asteroids, and comets.  Note that this study includes not just the planets in our solar system, but also those planets being discovered in increasing number beyond our solar system (exoplanets).  As with any field that combines aspects of two different scientific disciplines, you will need to become proficient in both astronomy and geology.  Many university astronomy and geology programs have researchers who work as astrogeologists, so you should have no problems pursuing this field in college.  For general information about careers in astronomy see the related postings in the archives of this blog.

Jeff Mangum

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Pros and Cons of Being An Astronomer

Question:  What are the pros and Cons of the job as an astronomer?  – Johny

Answer:  The Careers in Astronomy section of this blog contains quite a bit of information that would answer this question.  In general, a career in astronomy is just like a career in any other profession.  It has its positives and negatives.  I think that the biggest positive that a career in astronomy has is the flexibility one has to work on a variety of interesting projects on a daily basis.  You should check out the blog posts within the Careers in Astronomy section for further details.

Jeff Mangum

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Interview Questions on Your Career as an Astronomer

Question:  I have an Interview to ask!! Is for a school project!! – Melarie

Q: What is your name?
A: Jeff Mangum

Q: What is your job title?
A: Scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Q: What is your upcoming salary?
A: The best answer I can give to this question is that astronomers don’t make high salaries, but generally make enough to get by.

Q: How many years it took you to finish your university [education]?
A: I spent 4 years studying physics and astronomy at the University of California Berkeley as an undergraduate, then 5 years studying astronomy at the University of Virginia as a graduate student.

Q: Do you like or dislike your job?
A: I like the freedom to work on a variety of interesting astrophysical problems.

Q: Was it hard to get your job?
A: Permanent positions in astronomy are very competitive, so I would say yes, it is hard to get a permanent job in astronomy.

Q: What university did you study in?
A: As I mentioned above, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia.

Q: How many years you have been working on this job?
A: 20.

Q: Do you enjoy your job? Why?
A: Most of the time.  I enjoy doing research, working with students, and interacting with the general public through media such as this blog!

Q: How many hours do you spend working?
A: Most of my days are quite long.  10-12 hours each day.

Q: When do you have free time?
A: I do find time to relax on occasion.  Weekends tend to be days when I do some other things besides work.

I hope that my answers have sufficiently addressed your questions.  If you have further questions about careers in the sciences, or my career as an astronomer, please do let me know.

Jeff Mangum

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What Skills Are Needed to be an Astronomer?

Question:  What basic training is needed to become an astronomer?  – Adeshina

Answer: I have assembled pointers to several sources for this information on my Student Resources page.  You might also want to consult my previous posts on this subject.  In general, you need to obtain the skills associated with a bachelor’s degree in physics, astronomy, or a related physical science discipline.  This should give you a very deep understanding of the physical universe.  Along the way you should also become proficient in the use of computers to perform computational physics calculations.

Jeff Mangum

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Astronomer Career Questionnaire

Questions: I have some questions that I need answered for an essay on your career as an astronomer.  – Daniel

1) What college did you go to?

I have a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Virginia.

2) What is your starting salary?

Astronomers are not rich people, but we do make enough to get by.

3) What is the working environment like?

Not too different from a regular office that you might find with any business.  Sometimes my work schedule is a bit different than nine-to-five, but other than that it is pretty “standard”.

4) Do you love your job? If so, why?

Yes.  I get to work on a lot of different and interesting things, which makes it exciting.

5) Has your job been a positive experience?

Yes.  Not sure I can see myself doing anything else.

6) How many hours do you typically work in a week?

My hours are a bit unusual.  I work 50 to 60 hours per week, but that is by my own choosing so that I can keep-up with all of the things I want to work on.

7) How often do you work on weekends?

Every weekend, but that is by choice.  I like to keep up with all of my tasks, so I choose to put in hours on weekends to stay ahead.

8) Do the people around you have a positive attitude for their job?

Yes, in general.  We basically get to work on understanding how the universe works, so it is hard not to like this line of work.

9) What is your typical day consist of?

Quite variable.  I really cannot predict what work each day will entail.

Jeff Mangum

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Essay Topics on Astronomy

Question:  What are some good topics to do on an expository essay?
I want to become and astronomer some day and I want to do my essay on something related to astronomy.  – Disha

Answer: Really any topic that you are interested in will serve as a good expository essay topic.  As there has been a lot of recent news on exoplanets and the cosmic microwave background, you might consider those topics.

Jeff Mangum

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Astronomy Career Questions

Question: I wanted to ask you if you could help me with some questions about how to become an astronomer?  – Disha

  1. How do you detect black holes? I mean, I know that you use x-rays but how do they function and what types of machines do you use?
  2. What are the main labs or headquarters for NASA?
  3. Is a Ph.D okay for a career in Astronomy?

Answer(s): To answer your first question, astronomers basically look for the affects of a black hole on the objects near it.  For example, we can see stars moving very quickly around an object near the center of our galaxy which is not visible.  Calculations involving how the stars move tell us how massive the object that they are moving around must be.  What we find is that only a black hole can meet the requirements for this mass and still remain unseen.

For your second question, let me refer you to a listing of NASA centers.  Finally, regarding your third question, the answer is yes, a PhD is required to become a professional astrophysical researcher.  There are, though, plenty of jobs that one can pursue in areas related to astrophysical research that do not necessarily require a PhD.  You should also look at a previous post on this subject called “Potential Careers Related to Astronomy”.

Jeff Mangum


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The Importance of Electronics Technicians to Astronomy

Question: Are there careers for electronics technicians in the field of radio astronomy?  I’m referring to those with 2-year associates degrees in electronics.  I know there’s a lot of electronics involved in radio telescopes.  Someone has to be maintaining that stuff!  – Daniel

Answer: Absolutely!  Electronics are a large part of the instrument development throughout astronomy, not just radio astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

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Careers in Radio Astronomy

Question:  Hello,I am currently a Final Year Electronics Engineering student at the Mumbai University. I’ve been a life long Astronomy enthusiast and have attended a few courses/lectures related to the celestial science through which I’ve gained considerable insight into the discipline and continue to enhance my knowledge and understanding on a daily basis.  Through my BE curriculum I’ve developed interest in Electromagnetic theory, Antenna fundamentals and Digital signal processing ,and with so I’ve decided to pursue higher education in Radio Astronomy.  I would like to know from a professional Radio Astronomer the qualities that are essential for a successful career as a Radio Astronomer.  Also which Universities in the US should I consider for a MS degree with a view of pursuing a career in Radio Astronomy.  Thanking you in anticipation.  – Sankalp Prakash Pawar

Answer:  As radio astronomy is a specialty discipline within the general science of astronomy and astrophysics, your question is really about how to pursue a career in astronomy.  See the Careers in Astronomy post for links to information on how to pursue a career in astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

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Potential Careers Related to Astronomy

Question:  I’m doing a project on astronomy and one section that I’ve added is of the many potential careers you can have that’s related to astronomy. I’m also trying to add an example of an important person for each job.

I’m only using 5 careers related to this, and I have two so far; Aerospace Engineer (Neil Armstrong), and a Faculty Member at a University who teaches Physics and Astronomy (Still looking for someone as an example).

What other careers are related to astronomy (basically ANYTHING) and that have important people as examples?  – Arcuz

Answer:  Here are a few more careers related to astronomy that you can add to your list:

  • Faculty Member at a University who teaches Physics and Astronomy: You can use Saul Perlmutter, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.  Perlmutter is an astrophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Researcher at a Federally-Funded Research LabDale Frail, who is an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, NM.  You can also use Robert W. Wilson, who is a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and co-discoverer of the cosmic microwave background.
  • Astronaut:  Although you already have Neil Armstrong on your list, you might want to add Karl Henize, who was a Space Shuttle astronaut who also did significant research into the emission lines from nebulae.
  • Musician:  Just can’t help adding Brian May to your list, who is the lead guitarist for the band Queen and also has a PhD in Astronomy.
  • Public Outreach:  There are many astronomers who provide information to the public on various science topics, including astronomy.  Phil Plait is one such astronomer who does a good job of dispelling myths in astronomy with his Bad Astronomy Blog.

I could also add Software Engineer, Atmospheric Scientist, and Investment Management to your list, but I don’t have any “famous” astronomers that I could associate with these professions (even though I know of several astronomers who have settled into these professions).  I hope that this answers your question.

Jeff Mangum

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