Astronomy is no longer about merely gazing at the stars and the night sky through telescopes. It has also long been separated from astrology and is now considered a special branch of science that offers plenty of scope and recognition the world over.
How did the stars and planets evolve? Does life exist among the stars? How did the universe get here and how will it end? As an astronomy or astrophysics major, prepare to challenge and be challenged!
Modern Astronomy is a science involving analytical and mathematical methodologies of studying the celestial bodies in the universe- these include moons, comets, satellites, stars and galaxies. There are several closely- related fields or branches within the Astronomy programme some of which are:
- Astrometry which involves the observational study of the position and motion of all the above celestial bodies (used to determine universal time).
- Celestial Mechanics, which is closely related to Astrometry, focuses on orbits and the effect of gravity on celestial motion. This branch of Astronomy finds direct applications in Astrophysics and uses the principles and quantities of Physics.
- Astrophysics is the study of the chemical composition and physical properties of the celestial bodies. These bodies are observed from birth to end state and their behaviour is studied.
- Cosmology is comparable to astrophysics but differs slightly- this branch deals with the universe in its entirety, from its beginning to its future.
Universities abroad offer various programmes in astronomy and related areas, some of which are:
- Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy
- Masters in Astrophysics
- Master of Science in Space Physics
- Master of Science in Human Space Exploration Science
- PhD in Space Physics
A definite pre-requisite for an undergraduate programme is the study of physics and maths at the higher secondary level. If you are keen on pursuing a master’s degree in the field, undergraduate study in a related science from a reputed university is expected.
More than anything else, what you need is an innate interest or passion not just for the stars and moons but also for Mathematics and Physics. A good working knowledge of computers is also essential as increasingly astronomers work with computers to create models and simulations.
A bachelor’s degree in astronomy also prepares you for the roles of science teachers, laboratory technicians, science journalists and computer programmers. Your undergraduate study can also serve as a pathway to graduate degrees in related fields such as space science and Astrophysics. You ill also find that some universities offer a physics degree with a specialization in astronomy.
At the graduate level, you will be more involved in independent research or publishing of papers. This paves the way for many career opportunities for qualified astronomers: you can find employment in colleges and universities; get involved in advanced research in observatories; work with engineers and astronauts in space stations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). You can also find opportunities in the private industry as a few hire astronomers to conduct research that will give the company an edge over competition. Astronomers are also employed in planetariums, science museums, or in other public service positions.
Astronomy and space physics programmes are offered by many leading universities in countries like the UK, USA. Malaysia and Australia. Many of these universities boast of state-of-the-art local facilities including on-site observatories and space telescopes, and access to international facilities such as the Very large Telescope or VLT, the world’s most advanced optical instrument.