Institute of Astronomy


Ask an Astronomer - Life as an Astronomer

Choice of degree to become an astronomer

Published on 26/01/2013 

I'm currently a student who is majoring in chemistry. I love chemistry, but as of last year I developed a huge interests in astronomy. I read tons of books and that just fueled my interest even more. I go to a college that doesn't offer astronomy as a major, so I was wondering would it be best to major in physics and take some astronomy classes because my goal in life is hopefully to become a astronomer or a planetary scientist?

It is always good to hear from those interested in astronomy. In general, I believe that specialising in physics is a great background for studying astronomy. Many researchers here did their undergraduate degrees in physics, and this is a good background. If you are serious about astronomy you should consider picking up physics.

Chemistry would also be useful for many areas of astronomy, in particular looking at planetary atmospheres, so your background there may be an advantage. There are some planetary scientists who studied chemistry for their PhD and only migrated across later in their research career.

If you are considering a career in astronomy you shall really need a PhD. It would therefore be best to contact institutions you would be interested in attending to find out their requirements. A degree in applied mathematics is often a valid option too.

Programming in Astronomy

Published on 03/01/2013 

What computer programming languages do astronomers use? IDL? Java? C++? C#? Ada?

The programming languages used in astronomy are somewhat down to the preferences of the individual astronomer, however I think it would be fair to say that the most commonly used ones are IDL, C/C++ and Fortran, though Python is becoming more and more popular as well.