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Astronomers conduct research to understand the nature of the universe and everything in it. These researchers observe, measure, interpret, and develop theories to explain celestial and physical phenomena using mathematics. From the vastness of space to the infinitesimal scale of subatomic particles, they study the fundamental properties of the natural world and apply the knowledge gained to design new technologies.

Hours: Physicists often work regular hours in laboratories and offices. At times, however, those who are deeply involved in research may work long or irregular hours. Astronomers may need to work at odd hours to observe celestial phenomena, particularly those working with ground-based telescopes.

Opportunities: About 38 percent of physicists and astronomers worked for scientific research and development services firms. The Federal Government employed 21 percent, mostly in the U.S. Department of Defense, but also in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and in the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Energy. Other physicists and astronomers worked in colleges and universities in nonfaculty, usually research, positions, or for State governments, information technology companies, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing companies, or electronic equipment manufacturers.

Although physicists and astronomers are employed in all parts of the country, most work in areas in which universities, large research laboratories, or observatories are located.

Pay: Median annual earnings of astronomers were $95,740 in 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,050 and $125,420, the lowest 10 percent less than $44,590, and the highest 10 percent more than $145,600.

According to a 2007 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, the average annual starting salary offer to physics doctoral degree candidates was $52,469.

Training: Because most jobs are in basic research and development, a doctoral degree is the usual educational requirement for physicists and astronomers. Master's degree holders qualify for some jobs in applied research and development, whereas bachelor's degree holders often qualify as research assistants or for other occupations related to physics.

Citation: Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition , Physicists and Astronomers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos052.htm (visited July 22, 2009 ).

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