What is an Astronomy Degree?

Astronomy degree programs teach students about celestial bodies and the energy and forces exerted by their interaction. This means that the curriculum is concerned with the study of objects in space, from the smallest neutrinos to planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, asteroids, comets, and black holes. Aspiring astronomers learn about when these objects were born, how they evolved, how some of them became extinct, and how they move in space. They develop skills to theorize about the origin of the cosmos and to predict future events in the universe. In addition, they study the mechanics involved in building and deploying space stations, satellites, space crafts, and transportation systems.

These are among the courses that make up an astronomy program:

  • Mathematics / Calculus
  • Statistics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Astrophysics
  • Cosmology – the science of the origin and development of the universe
  • Electromagnetism
  • Structure and Evolution of Stars
  • Planetary Geology
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Programming

Note: Astronomy is the science of measuring the positions and characteristics of celestial bodies. Astrophysics is the application of the laws of physics to understand and interpret astronomy. As the difference is merely technical, the terms astronomy and astrophysics are used interchangeably.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Astronomy – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, astronomy students learn about the mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering concepts that apply to the field. They are introduced to the two subfields of astronomy:

  • Observational Astronomy – the acquiring and analyzing of data using the principles of physics
  • Theoretical Astronomy – the design of computer models to study astronomical objects and phenomena

Coursework includes:

  • Linear Algebra for Science
  • Calculus for Science
  • Chemical Reaction / Kinetics Laboratory
  • Dynamics, Waves, Electricity, and Magnetism
  • Experimental Physics Seminar
  • Astrophysics
  • Stars and Stellar Evolution
  • Computational Physics – Introductory
  • Geometrical and Physical Optics
  • Quantum Physics – Introductory
  • Galaxies
  • Astronomical/Astrophysical Observations, Instrumentation, and Data Analysis
  • Thermal Physics
  • Mechanics

Master’s Degree in Astronomy – Two Year Duration
This graduate degree program provides students with a broad understanding of the techniques used in both observational and theoretical astronomy. The curriculum emphasizes extensive research and experience in presenting it.

Here is a sample of the coursework required:

  • Astronomical Dynamics
  • Cosmology / Black Holes
  • Neutron Stars
  • Galaxies
  • Particle Physics / High-energy Astrophysics
  • Planetary Astronomy
  • Stars / Stellar Structure
  • Astronomical Statistics
  • Observational Astronomy Techniques
  • Thesis – Master of Science in Astronomy

Doctoral Degree in Astronomy – Four Year Duration
Holders of an astronomy Ph.D. often have careers as university professors and/or researchers in the field. The focus of a doctoral degree program in astronomy is conducting research to complete and defend an original dissertation. Students’ coursework, therefore, depends on the research topic that they choose.

These are examples of possible areas of research:

  • Auroras
  • Asteroids
  • Big Bang theory
  • Comets
  • Mars water
  • Quasars
  • Remote sensing
  • Sagan effect
  • Supernova

Degrees Similar to Astronomy

Aerospace Engineering
This field is dedicated to the design and development of aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. Degree programs include the study of aerodynamics, orbits, launch, flight controls, and engines.

Engineering Physics
Students of this discipline focus on learning how to use physics to solve practical problems. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the bridge between physics and engineering.

Meteorology / Atmospheric Sciences
The field of meteorology is concerned with the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomy is concerned with objects beyond the atmosphere. The connections between the two disciplines are especially clear in these definitions:

  • Dynamic Meteorology – the study of the motions of the atmosphere based on the Earth’s rapid rotation
  • Physical Meteorology – the study of the optical, electrical, acoustical, and thermodynamic phenomena in the atmosphere; the physics of clouds and precipitation

Geology is about the history of the Earth and the forces that act upon it. Geology coursework covers subjects like geochemistry, geophysics, and mineralogy.

Degree programs in mathematics typically teach both the theory of pure mathematics and its practical application to the world, known as applied mathematics. In other words, math majors study more than algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics. They learn about how math concepts are used in business management, computer science, economics, finance, music, philosophy, physics, and sports science.

Physics is a field that keeps changing as discoveries are made. This means that the field asks at least as many questions as it answers. Students of physics degree programs study matter and energy. They learn about the relationships between the measurable quantities in the universe, which include velocity, electric field, and kinetic energy. In simple terms, the study of physics is an attempt to figure out why objects move in the way that they do.

Skills You’ll Learn

The study of the stars and other celestial bodies leaves astronomy grads with a skill set that employers in every sector appreciate:

  • Math and science
  • Research
  • Data analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Computer software
  • Patience
  • Flexibility
  • Dedication to ongoing learning

What Can You Do with an Astronomy Degree?

Research and Education
The majority of astronomers work at universities and colleges. In most cases, they both teach astronomy and conduct research in the field. For this reason, a Doctorate in Astronomy is the degree that is pursued by many students.

In the aerospace industry, astronomers may apply their knowledge to the manufacturing, testing, and monitoring of civil or commercial aircraft, military aircraft, missiles, rockets, spacecraft, lunar vehicles, and space stations.

Data Science and Programming
In this sector, astronomers use their skills to develop science-related software.

Finance and Law
With their ability to process large sets of data, astronomy graduates may be hired by financial and law firms to manage information and records.

Government / Federal Agencies
Agencies like these often hire astronomers: NASA, National Optical Astronomy Observatories, National Radio Astronomy Observatories, U.S. Naval Observatory, Space Telescope Science Institute, Naval Research Observatory

Museums, Planetariums, Observatories, and Science Centers
All of these institutions provide art and science public outreach and education.

Science / Technical Writing
This is a potential career option for astronomy grads with interests in both science and communication.


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