Astrophysicists & Astronomers
Astrophysicists study objects in the universe, including galaxies and stars to understand what they are made of, their features, their histories, and how they were formed.
Related job title: Astronomer, Research Scientist, Physicist, Planetary Scientist, Space Physicist, Dynamicist, Planetary Spectroscopist, Galactic Astronomer, Stellar Spectroscopist
Astrophysicists study objects in the universe, including galaxies and stars to understand what they are made of, their features, their histories, and how they were formed. They might study the formation of the solar system, or the composition of the atmosphere of planets millions of lightyears away.
Topics studied by Astrophysicists include:
- Solar studies: Study of the Sun
- Stellar studies: Study of the Sun and other stars
- Planetary studies: Study of planets, moons, asteroids, meteoroids, and comets
- Optical physics: Design and develop instruments that measure radiation
- Atmospheres and ionospheres: Study of atmospheres on Earth, other planets and moons
- Fields and particles: Study of magnetic, gravitational and electric fields in space
- Cosmology: Study of the origin and development of the universe
To do this they use telescopes, sensors, and probes on Earth and in space to collect data such as radio waves given off by distant pulsars and images of a exoplanets passing in front of their stars. This data is then fed into computer models (often designed by astrophysicists) to analyse it and better understand what it means.
They will spend many years researching a particular topic and publish scientific papers about their work, what they have learned and the models they have used. When enough of these papers come to the same conclusions, we can be confident that we have discovered a new rule that applies throughout the universe.
Working Hours & Conditions
Most astrophysicists are academics and work for universities and publicly funded organisations like the European Southern Observatory. Facilities are typically shared by groups from all over the world.
They work between 35 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, but might sometimes have to work late into the night to finish a report by a deadline, or to monitor an experiment as it runs.
Scientists spend a lot of time working in offices with computers analysing data, but will also work with equipment in workshops and laboratories. They may also go on trips around the world to visit other research facilities, and to attend conferences.
Routes into Astrophysics
Find out more about astronomy careers from this booklet produced by the Royal Astronomical Society.